from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
October 10, 2001


In an extraordinary exercise of official secrecy, President Bush ordered six agency heads to withhold classified information from all but eight designated members of Congress. The move immediately drew sharp criticism from Congressional leaders.

In an October 5 memo on "Disclosures to the Congress," the President said that "the only Members of Congress" who may be briefed "regarding classified or sensitive law enforcement information" are the Speaker of the House, the House Minority Leader, the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, and the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

"It's a reflection of the fact that our nation is now at war, and the rules have changed," said White House press spokesman Ari Fleischer yesterday. "It's a reflection of the reality that disclosure of information in a time of war is far different from an inadvertent disclosure at a time of peace. It could literally mean the loss of lives of people who are embarking on missions."

Congress was quick to object and to assert its prerogatives, threatening to suspend needed legislation until the restrictions are eased.

"The defense bill is not moving until we are included," said Senator Ted Stevens, the ranking Republic on the Senate Appropriations Committee, as quoted in the Washington Times.

"I think it's an overreaction," said Senator Richard Shelby, who is perhaps the most outspoken congressional critic of "leaks" of classified information. Senator Shelby, speaking on CNN, said that at a minimum, members of the armed services committee and the defense appropriations subcommittee needed to be included in classified briefings. He also volunteered that "I do believe that there is too much information that is classified."

There are a number of categories of classified information that, by statute, may be provided to only a select subset of congressional leaders. These include the reporting of covert actions (see 50 USC 413b) and the reporting of certain Pentagon special access programs known as "waived programs" (see 10 USC 119).

In contrast to those narrow provisions, President Bush's directive appears to overreach because it refers generically to "classified information" and "sensitive law enforcement information" (presumably related to the current anti-terrorist campaign). Moreover, it completely excludes congressional committees that have related oversight responsibilities, including the armed services, foreign relations, judiciary and appropriations committees.

The text of President Bush's October 5 memorandum to agency heads is posted here:

Excerpts from the October 9 White House press briefing at which the memo was discussed may be found here:


In further evidence of expanding official secrecy, the Department of Defense has called upon its contractors to limit the information that they publicly disclose and directed its own acquisition officers to terminate contacts with the news media.

"I would ... like to stress, during this national emergency, the importance of the use of discretion in all the public statements, press releases, and communications made by your respective companies," wrote Under Secretary of Defense E.C. "Pete" Aldridge in an October 2 letter to major defense contractors.

"As we all know, even seemingly innocuous industrial information can reveal much about military activities and intentions to the trained intelligence collector," Mr. Aldridge wrote. See:

Deputy Assistant Secretary Darlene Druyun went beyond that to actually prohibit Pentagon acquisition officials from speaking with the media.

"Effective immediately, I do not want anyone within the Air Force acquisition community discussing any of our programs with the media (on or off the record)," Ms. Druyun wrote in an October 4 email message to program officers. See:

These directives were reported and placed in context in an article by Amy Butler in, reposted with permission here:


Senator Patrick Leahy, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, yesterday described at length and somewhat apologetically the Senate's version of the pending anti-terrorism legislation, known as the "Uniting and Strengthening America Act of 2001."

He outlined the numerous changes that have been made to the Administration's initial proposal in the course of Senate deliberations to date, but noted that "This is not the bill that I, or any of the sponsors, would have written if compromise was unnecessary."

See Senator Leahy's October 9 remarks on the Senate floor here:

The pending Senate legislation, introduced October 4, is posted here:

The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the Senate bill in an October 5 press release saying it "poses significantly more danger to civil liberties than the measure adopted earlier this week by the House Judiciary Committee." See:


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

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