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Opening Statement of

before the


hearing on

S.1801, The Public Interest Declassification Act

July 26, 2000

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT): Thanks, Mr. Chairman. I'm sorry to be a little late. I just ended a markup in another committee, but I'm glad I made it here on time to thank you for calling this hearing on a very important complicated and timely subject which is, of course, how our government classifies and declassifies information.

The question really speaks to the essence of our democracy, the citizens relationship to the government and the accountability of those in power to the citizenry. And, of course, it's complicated because we're trying to balance the public's right to know with the government's concern about information that it has which may genuinely be secret in the sense, at one point, that its disclosure will adversely affect the national interest, particularly the national security interest.

The question before us relates to the expectations also that government can reasonably set for itself-- what volume and type of information is it possible to keep secret, let alone the earlier question of what kind of information is appropriate to keep secret, and for how long? What kind of apparatus do we need to maintain to do so, and at what cost is appropriate or are we willing to assume?

Of course, the cost of keeping information secret has got to be measured in more than financial terms. One of the costs is the lost to our historical record, to our collective knowledge as a people. So it seems to me that an important goal of declassification is to enable us to revisit our history with the benefit of new information to throw more light on past events that have been cloaked in secrecy with the aim of helping us more wisely carry out our present responsibilities and better prepare us for the future.

It seems to me that it's very sensible as we rethink all sorts of government regulation and public access, which is much in the air here in The Capitol today, that we come back to these traditional questions of governmental secrecy and declassification guidelines. Hopefully those guidelines will be rational and systematic; they will place authority and accountability where appropriate; they will judiciously balance public access with authentic secrecy requirements; and they will be efficient and cost effective.

The arguments for the least possible secrecy in government consistent with our security are, to me, very powerful. Not least among them is the enabling effect on Congress to help us execute our rightful role in the oversight of government activities, including national security policy formulation and execution. But no less important, as I mentioned earlier, is the public's right to know and the enrichment of informed public disclosure on issues of vital importance to the health and future of our country. The community of scholars that will sift through appropriately declassified public records will make a contribution to the public welfare that goes well beyond academia.

Today our witnesses are extraordinarily able to contribute to this dialogue, and particularly they will be discussing the merits of the Public Interest Declassification Act of 1999, which Senator Moynihan has introduced in the Senate and Representative Goss has introduced in the House. We're truly honored and privileged to have these two colleagues with us.

As Senator Moynihan nears the end of his time in the Senate, I find myself suffering from what a psychiatrist might call separation anxiety. Since I came to this Senate -- if I may be personal for a moment -- the Talmud instructs us when we come to a new place to find ourselves a mentor, a teacher; and not his choice, but mine, he became my teacher. And I must say that though I'm privileged to serve truly with an extraordinary group of people here in the Senate, that there's no colleague that I have learned more from than Pat Moynihan. And I appreciate that very much, including on this subject.

I hope you'll not think that I have gone too far if I say this, but if I don't say it, it will always be on my mind.

I was thinking today coming in, because of the extraordinary range of Pat's experience in government over the decades in various executive and legislative activities -- ambassador, senator -- who in American history could I go back to and try to find comparison. And probably, because I've been reading too much lately in the early part of our history, I'd go back to John Quincy Adams and maybe Jefferson. And I think I could make a reasonable argument for those comparisons.

Anyway, I look forward his testimony on this matter in which he's uniquely prepared. He's served as chair of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy which in '97 unanimously delivered an important set of recommendations in reforming our nation's system for declassifying and classifying information.

Also, Congressman Goss is a very respected member of the House of Representatives, an authority on intelligence matters having served for 10 years himself as a clandestine services officer at the CIA, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and I must add -- it may seem parochial here too, but I'm being personal this morning -- a native of Waterbury, Connecticut and a graduate of Yale University. How much better prepared could one be to assume the large public responsibilities that he has taken on with such distinction?

So I look forward to the testimony today. And I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for calling this hearing. And I hope that we can find a way to move this bill and pass it before this session of Congress ends. Thank you very much.

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