from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 119
December 3, 2002


A long awaited Bush Administration executive order on national security classification and declassification policy may be completed "by the end of the year." But contrary to the fears of some and the hopes of others, the Bush order will not fundamentally reject the substantial reforms of cold war secrecy policy that were adopted in President Clinton's 1995 executive order 12958, which yielded an avalanche of declassified historical documents.

The pending draft order was briefly described in the minutes of a September 23 meeting of the State Department Historical Advisory Committee that were approved for release on December 2.

The forthcoming Bush order will be a "revision rather than a rewrite" that will preserve the basic structure of executive order 12958, according to remarks attributed to William Leary of the National Security Council staff. In particular, the new order will retain "the 25 year rule" which dictates that most classified documents are to be declassified as they become 25 years old.

However, historian Robert Schulzinger, chair of the State Department Advisory Committee, warned that "The high point in declassification has passed, and a revised executive order will be less transparent."

The newly released minutes also provide a status report on publication of the State Department's official "Foreign Relations of the United States" (FRUS) series; the ongoing re-review of declassified documents at the National Archives that was mandated under the 1999 Kyl/Lott amendment to search for inadvertent disclosures of classified information; and other details of historical document declassification. The minutes confirm that one classified document was actually published in a FRUS volume "many years ago," to the dismay of Energy Department reviewers.

A copy of the newly released Historical Advisory Committee minutes is posted here:


Efforts to defend and expand executive branch secrecy prerogatives are a recurring feature of the Bush Administration's interactions with the other branches of government.

The Administration's assertive posture is particularly evident in Presidential signing statements on new legislation, which routinely include rebuffs of even the most innocuous congressional mandates on disclosure of information to the public or the Congress.

Nearly every Presidential statement on legislation involving national security, defense, or foreign policy now seems to include a disclaimer, warning that the Administration will implement a new law only as it sees fit.

The latest of many examples is President Bush's statement on the Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003, which he signed on December 2.

"A number of provisions of the Act establish new requirements for the executive branch to furnish sensitive information to the Congress on various subjects, including sections 221, 1043, 1065, [and several others]," President Bush's signing statement observed.

However, the President advised, "The executive branch shall construe such provisions in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to withhold information the disclosure of which could impair foreign relations, the national security, the deliberative processes of the Executive, or the performance of the Executive's constitutional duties." See:

This does not necessarily entail any violation of law, but it does signify a continuing consolidation of executive branch authority at the likely expense of congressional oversight, as well as public accountability.


Liaison relationships between U.S. intelligence agencies and their counterparts in other countries are typically among the most important and the most secretive of intelligence activities. Questioned about them in public, the CIA can hardly be bothered to respond even with a "no comment."

But occasionally the foreign counterpart agency has reasons of its own to shed light on its intelligence liaison with the United States, such as a desire to advertise, for foreign or domestic advantage, the close relationship the country purportedly enjoys with U.S. intelligence.

Something like that may explain an unusually chatty account of relations between CIA and Lebanese security officials that appeared in the Beirut newspaper An-Nahar last week.

The newspaper reported the questions posed by Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and his staff concerning possible al Qaeda infiltration into Lebanon, and the responses given by Lebanese officials.

"As a result of the discussions, Tenet and his aides expressed satisfaction with stability in Lebanon and with the cooperation of the Lebanese security services with the CIA station in the American Embassy in Beirut. This is a constant and accurate cooperation in the fight against terrorism. The Lebanese authorities deal seriously with the information they receive from the CIA station, and they regularly supply the station with information within the anti-terror plan."

See "Tenet Given Assurances that No al-Qa'ida Cells Infiltrated Lebanon," by Nicholas Nasif, published in An-Nahar, November 28 (translated by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service) here:


In an act of unusual bureaucratic sophistication, the Czech Republic's Chamber of Deputies has established a new parliamentary Commission to monitor declassification of former communist secret police files, and to receive appeals from members of the public whose requests that have been denied.

"Citizens who would be denied access to [secret police] files by state bodies will be able to turn to the commission which will rule whether the files will not be made available or whether a citizen will be able to see them in spite of state bodies' negative stand," according to a report from the CTK news agency.

See "Chamber sets up commission to watch StB files declassification," November 27:

It is probably not entirely coincidental that popular confidence in the Chamber of Deputies has increased significantly in recent months, with 59% of the respondents reporting that they trust the institution. This is the highest figure reported in eight years, according to another CTK story.


The most basic questions of national security policy are also matters of urgent practical concern in developing democracies in Latin America and elsewhere.

Guatemala's national security organization, policy and doctrine are examined, from first principles to current realities, in an interesting new book of essays entitled "Seguridad democratica en Guatemala: desafios de la transformacion" edited by Bernardo Arevalo de Leon, Patricia Gonzalez, and Manolo Vela. The book is published by the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) / Sede Guatemala (2002). For price and ordering information, send email to:

Related resources on Guatemala and intelligence are available here:

A comparative analysis of intelligence oversight in Europe and South America is offered in "Control Publico de la Actividad de Inteligencia: Europa y America Latina, una vision comparativa" by Jose Manuel Ugarte. A copy of the paper, which was presented at a conference in Buenos Aires last month, is available here:


An impressive collection of freedom of information laws from around the world has been compiled by Prof. Alasdair Roberts of Syracuse University. His online library also includes documents reflecting the impact of NATO directives on the information policies of new NATO member nations, as well as several hard-to-find "security of information agreements" that govern the exchange of classified information between countries. See:


An unusually meaty release of British historical records from World War II and the early Cold war is described in the latest monthly announcement from the Public Record Office here:


William M. Arkin provides some new substance to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's offhand remark November 18 that the Defense Department continues to exercise the intended functions of the aborted Office of Strategic Influence (SN, 11/27/02).

In fact, Arkin writes, the Pentagon's information policy "blurs or even erases the boundaries between factual information and news, on the one hand, and public relations, propaganda and psychological warfare, on the other. And, while the policy ostensibly targets foreign enemies, its most likely victim will be the American electorate."

See "The Military's New War of Words," by William M. Arkin, Los Angeles Times, November 24 (flagged by, here:

"The Bush administration is developing a parallel legal system in which terrorism suspects -- U.S. citizens and noncitizens alike -- may be investigated, jailed, interrogated, tried and punished without legal protections guaranteed by the ordinary system, lawyers inside and outside the government say," according to the Washington Post.

See "In Terror War, 2nd Track for Suspects," by Charles Lane, Washington Post, December 1:

The Justice Department's churlish interpretation of the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act is critiqued in "At Justice, Freedom Not to Release Information," by James V. Grimaldi, Washington Post, December 2:

"A Republican Senator [Pat Roberts of Kansas] who has been highly critical of the Congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks is in line to lead the Senate Intelligence Committee" in the next Congress, according to the New York Times. Expectations for vigorous oversight are correspondingly low.

See "Shuffling at the Top is Set for Intelligence Committees" by Carl Hulse, New York Times, December 2:


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

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