from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2010, Issue No. 16
March 1, 2010

Secrecy News Blog:


The House of Representatives last week approved two secrecy-related amendments to the pending FY 2010 intelligence authorization act (HR 2701). The amendments and the bill itself await further action by the Senate.

An amendment by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) would require the Director of National Intelligence to identify records held by U.S. intelligence agencies that deal with human rights violations in Argentina committed by that country's military dictatorship between 1976 and 1985, and to review such records for declassification (sec. 360). An amendment by Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) would require the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community to prepare a report "containing an analysis of the problem of over-classification and ways to address such over-classification" (sec. 358).

Argentina's so-called "dirty war" in the 1970s was a national trauma that persists in living memory, involving the death and disappearance of tens of thousands of victims. "By passing this measure today," said Rep. Hinchey, "Congress is helping to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding the terrible human rights abuses committed by the despotic Argentinian regime of the 1970's and 1980's and helping to bring truth and justice to what was a horrific period in South America."

Rep. Harman's amendment would help to enlist the new Inspector General of the Intelligence Community in the process of intelligence classification reform. Under the Inspector General Act of 1978, only Congress can require the Inspector General to undertake this task. And the IG should be well-positioned to do so, with all of the necessary clearances and depth of access.

In truth, however, it is a little late in the day for a "report" on overclassification. It is more than a half century since the Coolidge Committee informed the Secretary of Defense that "overclassification has reached serious proportions," and dozens of other official and unofficial commissions and reviews have generated similar findings since that time.

Fortunately, secrecy policy today seems to have moved beyond the "analysis" phase. A focused effort to combat overclassification in practice was approved in President Obama's executive order 13526 (sec. 1.9). Specifically, all classifying agencies have been ordered to perform a "fundamental review" of their classification guidance "to ensure the guidance reflects current circumstances and to identify classified information that no longer requires protection and can be declassified."

The Fundamental Classification Guidance Review is "the most important effort to address this problem [of overclassification]," said William H. Leary of the National Security Council.

"[It] is a totally new requirement that agencies conduct fundamental reviews of their classification guides and other guidance to ensure that they eliminate outdated and unnecessary classification requirements. The first of these fundamental reviews has to be completed within two years, and agencies are required to make public the results so that people... can hold us responsible for the results," said Mr. Leary, who spoke at a January 20 program at American University's Collaboration on Government Secrecy.

"These reviews can be extremely important in changing the habits and the practices of classifiers throughout government," he said.


A study of the news media in 15 Arab countries shows some new signs of vigor and creativity in the Arab press, despite familiar financial constraints and structural changes affecting news organizations. Overall daily circulation and the number of news publications continue to rise.

"We are confident that the fundamentals of the media in our region are strong enough to not only withstand the storms of the times, but also to forge ahead, learning lessons from the past and making amends for things that went wrong," wrote Mona al Marri, chairperson of the Dubai Press Club in the United Arab Emirates, which produced the new study.

"A majority of media stakeholders that we interviewed across the 15 countries covered in the report thought future prospects for the media in the region were positive in spite of the impact of the economic downturn," said Maryam bin Fahad, executive director of the Press Club. "We also noticed a growing preference for local Arabic content in countries that produce local content such as Egypt and Lebanon, indicating further maturation of the media industry and media consumers away from generalized regional or global media content."

"The newspaper industry in the Arab Region is currently an unsaturated market in the majority of countries," according to the study. "The concentration of newspapers in the region relative to its population remains low compared to Western Europe, North America and even Eastern Europe."

"Bahrain has, by far, the highest concentration of newspaper titles by population in the region," followed by Qatar and Kuwait. Other countries, "including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria, could benefit from an increase in newspapers." Varying levels of press freedom and legal protection for the press are noted in passing.

"Arab Media Outlook 2009-2013: Inspiring Local Content," was released last month. A copy is posted here with the permission of the Dubai Press Club:


Noteworthy new volumes of congressional hearings on national security-related topics include the following.

"War Powers in the 21st Century," Senate Foreign Relations Committee, April 28, 2009 (published January 2010):

"Voice of Veterans of the Afghan War," Senate Foreign Relations Committee, April 23, 2009 (published February 2010):

"Strategic Importance of the Arctic in U.S. Policy," Senate Appropriations Committee, August 20, 2009 (published January 2010):

"Defeating the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and Other Asymmetric Threats: Today's Efforts and Tomorrow's Requirements," House Armed Services Committee, September 16, 2008 (published December 2009):

"Implications of the Supreme Court's Boumediene Decision for Detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba: Non-Governmental Perspective," House Armed Services Committee, July 30, 2008 (published January 2010):


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

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