from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2009, Issue No. 47
May 21, 2009

Secrecy News Blog:


"We are launching a review of current policies by all of those agencies responsible for the classification of documents to determine where reforms are possible," announced President Obama in a speech at the National Archives today.

While the President has spoken broadly before of the need for greater transparency, this is the new Administration's first public approach to reform of the national security classification system. A focused review of individual agency classification policies, many of which have not been revised or updated for years, has the potential to eliminate obsolete classification requirements, and to minimize overclassification. (See "Overcoming Overclassification," Secrecy News, September 16, 2008.)

"I ran for President promising transparency, and I meant what I said. That is why, whenever possible, we will make information available to the American people so that they can make informed judgments and hold us accountable. But I have never argued and never will that our most sensitive national security matters should be an open book."

"I will never abandon and I will vigorously defend the necessity of classification to defend our troops at war; to protect sources and methods; and to safeguard confidential actions that keep the American people safe. And so, whenever we cannot release certain information to the public for valid national security reasons, I will insist that there is oversight of my actions by Congress or by the courts."

The President also indicated that an ongoing review of the use of the state secrets privilege was "nearing completion."

"On all of these matters related to the disclosure of sensitive information, I wish I could say that there is a simple formula. But there is not. These are tough calls involving competing concerns, and they require a surgical approach."

"But the common thread that runs through all of my decisions is simple: we will safeguard what we must to protect the American people, but we will also ensure the accountability and oversight that is the hallmark of our constitutional system. I will never hide the truth because it is uncomfortable. I will deal with Congress and the courts as co-equal branches of government. I will tell the American people what I know and don't know, and when I release something publicly or keep something secret, I will tell you why," he said.


Also today, the White House solicited public recommendations for greater openness in government.

"Members of the public are invited to participate in the process of developing recommendations [by] offering comments, ideas, and proposals about possible initiatives and about how to increase openness and transparency in government," according to a notice published in the Federal Register today.

"Comments may address law, policy, technology, culture, and practice on issues such as: What government information should be more readily available on-line or more easily searched? How might the operations of government be made more transparent and accountable?... What alternative models exist to improve the quality of decisionmaking and increase opportunities for citizen participation? What are the limitations to transparency?"

Comments are due by June 19.

This request for public comments itself already represents an advance over past practice, because it is based on an official consensus in favor of increasing openness. "Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing," President Obama stated on January 21. "Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions," he said.

These principles, having been affirmed by the President, no longer need to be debated. Instead, the question is how to realize them in practice.

Today's Federal Register notice was signed by John P. Holdren, the White House science adviser. Holdren was formerly a chairman of the Federation of American Scientists and was also, years ago, a professor of mine at UC Berkeley.


Noteworthy new congressional hearing records on intelligence, national security or secrecy that have been published in the last month or two include the following.

"Congressional Oversight of Intelligence Activities," hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, November 13, 2007:

"Implementation of the Office of Government Information Services," hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, September 17, 2008:

"FISA for the 21st Century," hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, July 26, 2006 (includes over a hundred questions and answers for the record from OLC head Steven G. Bradbury, among others):

"Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2007," hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, September 27, 2007:

"From the Department of Justice to Guantanamo Bay: Administration Lawyers and Administration Interrogation Rules (Part III)," hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, June 26, 2008 (including testimony by David S. Addington and John Yoo):

"From the Department of Justice to Guantanamo Bay: Administration Lawyers and Administration Interrogation Rules (Part IV)," hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, July 15, 2008 (including testimony by Douglas Feith):


The Open Source Center of the U.S. Intelligence Community has prepared a descriptive catalogue of websites concerning the defense and security of Chile.

"The Chilean defense establishment consists of military and civilian institutions, many of which have their own websites featuring institutional services, news, and academic reports," the OSC report explains. "Many academic contributions on defense issues are featured on these sites. Defense blogs and some related websites also carry unofficial information on Chilean military issues. A few sensitive defense institutions, including intelligence services and related industries, do not have their own websites. An appendix [to the report] explains the Chilean defense structure."

Like many other OSC products, the unclassified, 12-page report has not been approved for public release. But a copy was obtained by Secrecy News. See "Guide to Selected Chilean Defense Websites," Open Source Center Media Aid, 29 April 2009:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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