from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
October 23, 2001


Citing media reports last week concerning the deployment of special operations forces in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday deplored the disclosure of classified information and discussed the limits of Pentagon cooperation with the media.

"We cannot and will not provide information that could jeopardize the success of our efforts to root out and liquidate the terrorist networks that threaten our people," he said.

"I think that the release by a person in the government who had access to classified information to the effect that the United States ... was about to engage in a special operation in Afghanistan clearly was ... a violation of federal criminal law and it was something that was totally in disregard for the lives of the people involved in that operation," he said.

Secretary Rumsfeld did not indicate which federal criminal law was violated. Presumably he was referring to the Espionage Act, specifically 18 U.S.C. 793(d), which prohibits disclosure of "information relating to the national defense" to a person "not entitled to receive it."

Excerpts from Secretary Rumsfeld's press briefing on classified information and the media are posted here:

The story was elaborated by Vernon Loeb and Bradley Graham in the Washington Post today. See "Rumsfeld Assails Leak on Troops":


Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz has called upon Pentagon employees to minimize disclosure of information to the public and to use discretion even when talking among themselves.

"It is ... vital that Defense Department employees, as well as persons in other organizations that support DOD, exercise great caution in discussing information related to DOD work, regardless of their duties," Wolfowitz wrote in an October 18 memo.

"Do not conduct any work-related conversations in common areas, public places, while commuting, or over unsecured electronic circuits," he wrote in the memo, which was first reported on October 22 by

Significantly, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz did not distinguish sharply between classified and unclassified information.

"Classified information may be discussed only in authorized spaces and with persons having a specific need to know and the proper security clearance. Unclassified information may likewise require protection because it can often be compiled to reveal sensitive conclusions."

"If in doubt, do not release or discuss official information except with other DoD personnel," he advised.

Defense Secretary Wolfowitz's memorandum on "Operations Security Throughout the Department of Defense" is posted here:


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

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