from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
November 16, 2001


Taken individually, each of the new national security policies adopted by the Bush Administration in recent weeks has its pros and cons, its potential excesses and mitigating factors. But collectively, the policies represent a striking new concentration of power in the executive branch and a transformation of the national security landscape.

What common factors underlie diverse measures such as military tribunals for suspected foreign terrorists, the monitoring of certain attorney-client conversations, and new restrictions on disclosure of historical presidential records, among other recent policy excursions?

Each involves an expansion of the exercise of executive branch authority with diminished opportunity for independent oversight, and little or no provision for public accountability.

The new policies are being unilaterally adopted faster than they can be assessed by Congress. In effect, the Administration is altering the institutional balance that has been gradually honed over recent decades, and jettisoning the experience on which that balance was based.

It is not necessary to attribute any malicious intent to the Bush Administration in order to conclude that its new policies will make the abuse of government power more feasible, harder to detect, and much more difficult to correct.

Several of the new policies were surveyed in a November 15 Associated Press story, "U.S. More Tightlipped Since September 11," by Deb Riechmann. The story, with links to related documents, is posted here:


The British Government this week published an updated version of its report on "Responsibility for the Terrorist Atrocities in the United States, 11 September 11 2001," which outlines on an unclassified basis the case against Usama bin Laden and Al Qaida. See:

The U.S. State Department belatedly published a comparable report of its own on "The Network of Terrorism" which is glossier but no more substantive than the UK report. See:

The Library of Congress has prepared a helpful compilation of "Legislation Related to the Attack of September 11, 2001" of which there has been quite a bit. See:


In an encouraging display of critical opposition, resistance to the recent Bush executive order that would impede public access to historical Presidential records continues to mount.

"Although the president may have hoped that this executive order might go unnoticed, the backlash is already fierce," according to the San Francisco Chronicle (11/11/01):

"The Bush order [is] entirely too restrictive," says the Christian Science Monitor (11/14/01):

"Since Mr. Bush is unlikely to rescind his own order, Congress must pass a law doing so," the New York Times editorialized (11/15/01):

"With a stroke of the pen on Nov. 1, President Bush stabbed history in the back," wrote historian Richard Reeves today, hyperventilating a little for the New York Times op-ed page:


On November 14, the United Kingdom Public Records Office announced "the eighth and largest Security Service release, consisting of just over 200 files, bringing the total number of MI5 records in the public domain to 1120." See:

Also on November 14, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz disclosed the contents of two "declassified" situation reports from U.S. Special Forces units in Afghanistan.

The new disclosures include observations from the field such as: "everywhere I go the civilians and mujahadeen soldiers are always telling me they are glad the USA has come." See:


The November 13 issue of Secrecy News reported on testimony by Amy E. Smithson of the Henry L. Stimson Center in which she called upon the government to take legal steps to remove certain environmental data from non-governmental web sites, if those web sites declined to remove such data themselves.

Secrecy News unfairly portrayed her position, Dr. Smithson said in a written reply today.

"As a closer reading of my testimony reveals, I thoroughly respect and advocate the public's right to know of the industrial dangers in their communities," she wrote.

"The issue is not IF this information should be accessible, but HOW easily people should be able to access it. My testimony never advocated general censorship or the blanket withholding of this information, only a more careful and considered approach to its distribution."

See the full text of Dr. Smithson's reply here:


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

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