from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 42
May 16, 2003


Five months after the completion of an 800 page report by the congressional joint inquiry into the September 11 terrorist attacks, the report remains classified and unavailable to the public. But if Congress had the will, it could release the report itself.

Under a little-known provision of the rules that established the House and Senate select intelligence committees, Congress granted itself the authority to disclose whatever information it deems to be in the public interest.

"The select committee may... disclose publicly any information in the possession of such committee after a determination by such committee that the public interest would be served by such disclosure," according to Section 8 of the 1976 Senate Resolution 400. A similar provision appears in Section 7 of House Rule XLVIII.

In cases where the information in question is classified, the intelligence committee must notify the President five days in advance of disclosing the information. If the President objects in writing, the disclosure may nevertheless proceed, but in that case it must be approved by the full Senate or House.

See Section 8 of Senate Resolution 400 here:

This authority has never been exercised, but it remains in effect. And it seems uniquely suited to the present circumstance.

Senator Bob Graham, a co-chair of the congressional joint inquiry, has certified that disclosure of the inquiry report is a matter of rather urgent public interest.

"By continuing to classify that information so that it's not available to the American people, the American people have been denied important information for their own protection, for the protection of the communities," Senator Graham said on CBS Face the Nation May 11. "Local agencies have been denied information which would help them be more effective. First responders and the American people do not have the information upon which they can hold the administration and responsible agencies accountable." See:

A CIA spokesman said that progress was being made on declassification of the report and that a sanitized version of the report might still be released by the end of the month.

See "CIA responds to Florida lawmakers' call for terror report" by Tamara Lytle, Orlando Sentinel, May 13:

But if the promised disclosure does not take place, or if the released document is censored beyond reason, Congress has another option.


The U.S. State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency have declassified and published thousands of pages of documents concerning the U.S. covert action in Guatemala that led to the overthrow of Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman in 1954.

The overthrow of Arbenz had profound consequences for Guatemala, the CIA and the conduct of the cold war generally that were explored at a public conference sponsored by the State Department May 15-16.

The conference coincided with the publication of a new supplementary volume of Foreign Relations of the United States (1954) devoted to Guatemala, 1952-54. See:

A 1983 FRUS volume concerning Guatemala in the same period drew widespread criticism because it omitted mention of the CIA-instigated coup. The State Department has posted the relevant portions of that earlier volume here:

The Central Intelligence Agency has published an impressive selection of declassified documents reflecting its role in the 1954 Guatemala coup which are available here:


A proposed exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for "operational files" of the National Security Agency is causing growing concern among public interest groups, media groups, historians and NSA watchers.

There is a subset of NSA technical information on signals intelligence collection that is rarely if ever disclosed. So exempting it from the requirements of the FOIA would make little difference.

But the definition of just what constitutes "operational files" -- i.e., "files that document the means by which foreign intelligence or counterintelligence is collected through technical systems" -- seems sufficiently loose that it could be used to deflect legitimate FOIA requests.

NSA officials insist that such is not their intention. But neither have they explained why, fifty-one years after the agency was established and thirty-seven years after the FOIA was enacted, they need this exemption now. Disclosure of classified information concerning "cryptographic systems" is already prohibited by law.

See "Bill would tighten cloak of NSA secrecy, critics say" by Ariel Sabar, Baltimore Sun, May 16:


The Public Record Office of the United Kingdom announced its latest monthly release, including declassified personnel files of the World War II-era Special Operations Executive (SOE) relating to "a number of the more celebrated SOE agents, and to individuals who achieved fame outside of their work for SOE." See:

Additional historical background concerning many of these SOE agents may be found here:


North Korea issued a lengthy denunciation of the United States this week, holding the U.S. responsible for derailing the process of "denuclearization" of the Korean peninsula.

See this May 12 "detailed report" published by the Korean Central News Agency and translated by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service:

In a May 14 White House statement with the president of South Korea, "President Bush and President Roh reaffirmed that they will not tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea." See:


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

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