from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 93
September 25, 2002


Former Senator Bob Kerrey hailed the National Imagery and Mapping Agency's declassification last week of 50,000 historical intelligence satellite images and stressed the importance of declassification for promoting an informed public.

"The greatest barrier to good domestic and foreign policies is the ignorance of the citizens whose opinions often dictate what our elected representatives are willing to do. Likewise the greatest asset for good policies is a solid foundation of citizens willing to make the effort to become informed," said Kerrey in the keynote address at a September 20 NIMA conference on imagery declassification.

"Take the risk of declassifying even more of your images to the public," he told an audience of NIMA officials, government contractors, historians and others. "This counterintuitive proposal is based upon sixteen years in elected political life during which I experienced the terror of leaders not being able to act because the public wasn't informed."

"I also experienced moments when the public suffered because policy makers made poor decisions due to the absence of a vigorous open debate," said Kerrey, who is now president of the New School University in New York City.

"I believe strongly that it is at times necessary to keep secrets from the American people in order to protect vital national security. But there are times when secrecy creates an ignorance that conspires with fear against good public decision making."

The full text of Senator Kerrey's keynote address is posted here:


The latest installment of the congressional Joint Inquiry into September 11 describes how the FBI responded to an internal alert that individuals affiliated with al-Qa'ida were receiving flight training at U.S. flight schools.

As in previous reports, the latest testimony includes numerous incidental findings of interest, such as: "The FBI recently determined that there are 68,000 outstanding and unassigned [investigative] leads assigned to the counterterrorism division dating back to 1995.... The counterterrorism division's management is currently looking into this situation."

See "The FBI's Handling of the Phoenix Electronic Communication and Investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui Prior to September 11, 2002," presented by Joint Inquiry staff director Eleanor Hill on September 24 and posted here:

The various obstacles encountered by the Joint Inquiry were described by Senator Richard Shelby on the Senate floor yesterday.

"We are often arguing with agencies about who may or may not appear before our committees as late as the day before they are scheduled to appear. Witnesses are requested, refused, requested again, granted and then, at the last minute, refused again," said Sen. Shelby, explaining why he came to favor an independent commission to investigate September 11.

The September 24 Senate floor debate culminated in a 90-8 vote in favor of establishing an independent commission. See:

The futility of many such commissions was pointed out by Sen. Trent Lott in a floor statement on September 23:

But while it is true that commissions can be a way of evading policy choices rather than advancing them, the one thing at which many commissions have excelled is compiling a documentary record and introducing new information into the public domain.


Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the issuance of new guidelines implementing the USA Patriot Act, "to coordinate information sharing between law enforcement and intelligence, homeland security, and other federal officials."

The new guidelines were described in a September 23 Justice Department fact sheet which is available here:

Several civil liberties organizations last week filed an amicus brief with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review. The brief endorses a lower court ruling that rejected the Justice Department's interpretation of the degree of cooperation between law enforcement and intelligence that is permitted by the USA Patriot Act. The civil liberties groups said the lower court got it right, and that the Justice appeal should be denied. See the September 19 amicus brief here:

On the other hand, Senator Hatch and several conservative colleagues indicated in a statement published in the Congressional Record yesterday that the Justice Department was acting in accordance with the intent of the USA Patriot Act. See "The U.S.A. Patriot Act in Practice: Shedding Light on the FISA Process" here:


There is a good deal of turmoil in the world of historical document declassification, judging by the July 2002 meeting minutes of the State Department Historical Advisory Committee (HAC), which were released today. The HAC oversees the preparation and publication of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, which is the official documentary history of U.S. foreign policy.

Some of the highlights of the latest minutes include:

  • "Marvin Russell (NARA) confirmed rumors that DOE reviewers at NARA have reclassified as RD/FRD (restricted data/formerly restricted data) declassified documents published in Foreign Relations volumes."

    This is remarkable, and could impose unanticipated legal obligations on public libraries and private individuals who have the "classified" FRUS volumes on their shelves.

  • Reporting on the state of classification policy, Information Security Oversight Office director Bill Leonard observed that "[other than] the General Counsel's office, no one in the Bush White House has shown a specific interest in the area of declassification, with the exception of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice."

  • As a result of a new memorandum of understanding, "CIA will receive the entire manuscript of all Foreign Relations volumes to review [in advance of publication].... The CIA commented that it was important for the Agency to see the entire manuscript so that the documents with CIA equity can be reviewed in the context of all the documents in the volume."

    This is unwelcome news, since CIA classification officials are known to take extreme, even irrational positions, claiming, for example, that declassification of the 1947 intelligence budget total could threaten U.S. national security today.

  • A number of retrospective or supplemental FRUS volumes are in preparation -- on Guatemala, Iran, Congo, and the early history of the intelligence community. The volume on Iran, based on classified State and CIA documents, "will place Mossadegh's [1953] overthrow in the context of the growing U.S. involvement in Iranian domestic affairs at the beginning of the 1950s." "Iranians would take the publication of such a documentary volume as a sign of good will," ventured one historian.

    See the July 2002 State Historical Advisory Committee minutes here:

    A 1992 law required "that the Secretary [of State] ensure that volumes in the [FRUS] series be published not more than 30 years after the events recorded," observed the new State Department authorization conference report. However, "a decade after the law was enacted, the Department remains out of compliance with this provision." See:


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

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