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Chief, Information Review Group
Central Intelligence Agency

Before the

11 MAY 1998

Mr. Chairman, Members, Guests and Staff:

I want to thank you for the opportunity to testify today about the proposed Human Rights Information Act, H.R. 2635.

I am here to speak about the effects such legislation would have on the current information review and release programs at CIA. In particular, it is our considered judgment that this legislation would be counterproductive given (1) our release accomplishments under current law, (2) the significant cost implications, and (3) the very real impact it would have on the ability of the United States to continue to obtain intelligence on human rights and other issues for the President and the Congress.

I would like to speak very briefly to each of these points and then return with some specific information and statistics to explain our position.

If time then permits, I would also offer some concerns regarding the practical impact of specific provisions of H.R. 2635.

First, let me address briefly our current record of accomplishments under existing release law and processes:

Similar proposed legislation has been under consideration for some time and I believe that the impetus comes from a perception that the CIA and other federal agencies have released little substantive information in response to the many FOIA and official inquiries related to Guatemala and Honduras human rights issues. Indeed, this is an issue which we have discussed with the staffs of our oversight committees on a regular basis and I believe that I can demonstrate that very much the opposite is true. In point of fact, the CIA has gone to extraordinary lengths to make information available to family members of human rights victims, the public, law enforcement entities, members of Congress, and, as appropriate, foreign governments conducting their own investigations of such abuses. Let me mention a few:

Second, let me speak briefly to the cost implications of H.R. 2635.

This "special purpose" disclosure bill must be placed into perspective with all other CIA information release programs. In short, our experience is that mandated information release programs of this type tend to monopolize resources, introduce delays into the release of information on other important topics, and create inefficiencies and cost excesses in what would otherwise be the orderly and cost-effective release of information.

Again, while I will speak on this matter in more detail in a moment, let me offer just a few facts to demonstrate the already balkanized nature of information review and release (IRR) and the attendant costs:

And third, let me also speak briefly to source protection.

We are not here to raise what some would characterize as the "tired old mantra of intelligence sources and methods."

Rather, there is one over-arching issue presented by this bill which is indeed a paradox. The laudable objective of the proposed legislation -- public disclosure of human rights abuse information -- would take place under standards that would virtually ensure that foreign nationals will not continue to cooperate with American intelligence on human rights and other issues, and that we, as a government, will lose access to the very information we need to formulate foreign policy and ensure the rule of law in other countries.

Some may question why this is so. The exemption provisions of this bill do not provide the confidentiality that sources or prospective sources demand and require. I am absolutely certain that few foreign nationals will provide the kind of information that the US Government needs -- knowing that ultimately or depending upon future circumstances they, their families, and their friends would be exposed as having cooperated with American intelligence.

Indeed, exactly such concerns are set out in detail in many documents that I personally review -- current sources reporting on human rights matters or past sources asking that their identities continue to be protected. What is common to both is that we have individuals explaining in detail how their identities must be protected or they face certain death or their families face public ostracism as well as penalties and abuse from their own governments.

In sum, the implications of H.R. 2635 are such that sources will be imperiled and the mission of CIA -- to support the Congress and the President -- will be disadvantaged.

With this introduction, I would like to return to our first major point and discuss in some detail our accomplishments under and the effectiveness of current law and processes.

Our responsiveness to public and Congressional interest in human rights cases significantly pre-dates this bill, continues today, and has even been enhanced. I would like to summarize some of these accomplishments:

My purpose in this discussion is to demonstrate the DCI's commitment to releasing human rights information today under existing law. While our work is difficult and very time consuming -- given the inherent sensitivity of our information and the need to review it thoroughly -- we are meeting, and I believe far exceeding, the requirements of law. And, I would add, we are doing this while at the same time meeting the new demands of the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996, which, as you are aware, require electronic release to individual requesters, general Internet access to frequently requested information, and reduction of backlog.

Now, I would like to return to our second major point and discuss in some detail our judgment that the proposed legislation would impose not insignificant costs and adversely impact our other release programs and the rights of requesters under those programs.

In my position, I have management responsibility and oversight for all of the CIA's information release programs and activities. While many tend to think of this as "just FOIA" with an occasional "special tasking," the picture is far different.

The universe of information review and release (IRR) is complex and balkanized -- competing programs, contradictory rules, divergent drivers, and growing costs.

Let me briefly itemize this universe of activity:

My point in addressing all of these information release activities is to show that today, we at CIA address a large variety of ongoing statutory, administrative, and management imposed requirements to release information. And it is not an easy task to juggle and prioritize all of these needs. Each of these statutory, administrative and management requirements has merit and I can assure you that each has its own proponents -- ranging from investigations into BCCI and BNL, to demands from veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome, to inquiries by individuals seeking information on family members or war-time service, to requesters challenging decisions in litigation or before administrative panels -- many of which are enormously time-consuming. It is my job to address all of these increasing needs with a relatively small staff.

Our concern with H.R. 2635 -- a broad gauged effort to examine all Agency records on a particular narrow topic -- is that it would not just add significant costs and require significant personnel resources, but would also not yield significantly more useful information to the public on Guatemala and Honduran Human rights abuses. This is so for two reasons:

To put this second point into perspective, the JFK Assassination Records Review Board effort at CIA -- comparable to what is being proposed in H.R. 2635 -- is now in its sixth year of activity and has engaged the equivalent of over 35 full-time personnel -- a not insignificant level for a single information release program. Nor does this include the very substantial time of senior management and legal staff as we address with the Board literally dozens of on-going issues at any one time -- including, for example, the necessity to protect the name of a former covert agent now living in a foreign country and easily subject to retaliation. These are issues where there is not simple deference to the DCI's position -- we are required to invest literally hundreds of hours in detailed research and fact-finding. If we were to calculate the government-wide cost and time, given the initial as well as review panel efforts, the true costs of the JFK statute would be far higher. I fear that the costs of implementing H.R. 2635 would be similarly high.

While there is no question that the JFK Act is an extraordinary statute to deal with an extraordinary event that had traumatic effect on the American populace, there are costs and benefits to balance. Every time such special purpose information disclosure statutes are passed, they rely on and dilute a very limited pool of trained resources. Currently, approximately 50% of our information review resources are devoted to special searches and special-purpose disclosure statutes. Further dilution of our limited assets by special disclosure statutes would substantially disadvantage the American public of their rights under the FOIA, Privacy Act, and Executive Order 12958 or cause the Agency to stop certain intelligence activities in order to divert personnel from the Agency's primary mission to the task of reviewing and declassifying documents.

Lastly, in this area, I would note what I perceive as an incorrect assumption implicit in this legislation -- that CIA has definitive information that would resolve these horrible events. Over the time period which would seem to be of most interest to sponsors of H.R. 2635, the late 1970s and 1980s, CIA's primary intelligence reporting interest in the region was not focused, per se, on human rights. Rather, such reporting was devoted largely to political developments; what information and documentation that CIA has concerning human rights abuses is often within the context of reporting on political dissent or rebellion and placing these incidents within this political context. As a result, our knowledge of these matters as reflected in our reporting at the time can be characterized as incomplete, fragmentary, often contradictory, and definitely not finished intelligence.

Let me turn to our final topic -- brief comments on specific provisions of H.R. 2635 -- which not only present additional cost concerns but, more significantly, would have a chilling and debilitating effect on the operational environment overseas.

First, we are concerned that H.R. 2635 establishes dangerous statutory declassification and release standards which will seriously compromise our ability to recruit intelligence sources and conduct needed intelligence activities.

Second, we believe that H.R. 2635 is inconsistent with Executive Order 12958, the National Security Act, and the FOIA given its less comprehensive declassification criteria and exemption scheme. Since 1974, the FOIA has been the bedrock of the U.S. Government's information release activities and it should not be lightly undermined -- especially given the clear evidence of its success in this arena.

Third, we also believe that the time and scope provisions of H.R. 2635 would significantly impair current CIA information review and release activities, and set an unfortunate precedent regarding future legislation of this type.

And, fourth, H.R. 2635 would create an augmented Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) with authority to substitute their judgment for the DCI's with respect to every declassification and release decision:

In conclusion, let me summarize why, in our judgment, H.R. 2635 is simply not warranted:

I would like to thank the members of the Subcommittee, other mmmhers of the House, and staff for this opportunity to present our views. I would be pleased to respond to any questions.

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