from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 62
July 24, 2003


The annual number of classification decisions made by classifiers in the executive branch increased by 14 percent in fiscal year 2002 to more than 23 million individual classification actions while declassification activity declined to the lowest level in seven years, according to a new report to the President.

The report was issued by the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), the executive branch agency housed at the National Archives that oversees the implementation of the national security classification system.

Among other statistics of interest, ISOO reported that classification-related expenditures, which include the costs of personnel security, physical security and associated infrastructure, rose to $6.5 billion in government and industry.

In an introductory essay entitled "A Look to the Future of the Security Classification System in a Post 9/11 Environment," ISOO director J. William Leonard placed the new data in the context of the war on terrorism, and sounded a note of caution.

"Much the same way the indiscriminate use of antibiotics reduces their effectiveness in combating infections, classifying either too much information or for too long can reduce the effectiveness of the classification system, which, more than anything else, is dependent upon the confidence of the people touched by it."

"While there is always a temptation to err on the side of caution, especially in times of war, the challenge for agencies is to similarly avoid damaging the nation's security by hoarding information," Mr. Leonard wrote.

A copy of the 2002 ISOO Report to the President, released July 23, may be found here (2.1 MB PDF file):


Information Security Oversight Office director William Leonard further expounded his views on the state of the national security classification system and the need for a fundamental reassessment of classification policy in a June 12 presentation to the National Classification Management Society.

His remarks included a number of specific proposals that represent, and help to advance, an emerging consensus on directions for reform of the classification system. Anyone with an interest in the nuts and bolts of classification policy will want to review it. See:


Formal classification is not the only, and perhaps not even the most important, barrier to public access to government information.

On June 18, the White House declassified selected excerpts from a classified October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's Weapons on Mass Destruction Program and presented them at a background briefing for the press.

But for some reason, the White House did not make those excerpts readily available to the public. Nor were they published in full by the major media outlets that were represented at the press briefing. Interested members of the public were left to scramble, or grovel, for a copy, which may now be found here:


The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly this week to nullify the authority that was granted to law enforcement agencies in the USA Patriot Act to conduct searches without notification in criminal investigations.

"These 'sneak and peek' searches give the government the power to repeatedly search a private residence without informing the resident that he or she is the target of an investigation," said Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R-ID), who introduced the amendment that would effectively prohibit such searches.

"Not only does this [Patriot Act] provision allow the seizure of personal property and business records without notification, but it also opens the door to nationwide search warrants and allows the CIA and the NSA to operate domestically," Rep. Otter said. "American citizens, whom the government has pledged to protect from terrorist activities, now find themselves the victims of the very weapon designed to uproot their enemies."

The House approved the amendment on July 22 by a vote of 309-118. See:

The House action, which has not yet been addressed by the Senate, took the Justice Department by surprise. The Otter amendment would have a devastating effect on the United States' ongoing efforts to detect and prevent terrorism, as well as to combat other serious crimes," said Department spokesman Mark Corallo, as reported by the Associated Press.


Senators Charles Grassley and Patrick Leahy introduced the "Federal Bureau of Investigation Reform Act of 2003" that would increase protections for FBI whistleblowers, establish an FBI counterintelligence polygraph program, and impose certain new reporting requirements. See their July 22 introductory statements here:

The Senate rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to require a Pentagon report on the status of those individuals who are being detained as "enemy combatants." The amendment was an attempt to come to terms with the extraordinary constriction of due process available to anyone the executive branch terms an "enemy combatant." On a party line vote July 16, the Senate rejected the attempt. See:

The Senate also rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) to establish a National Commission on the Development and Use of Intelligence Related to Iraq. See:

And the Senate rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) to withhold $50 million from the intelligence budget until Congress receives a report "on the development and use of intelligence relating to Iraq and Operation Iraqi Freedom." See:


"How can this administration declassify things, drop certain items into the press that are complimentary and positive from their point of view and get away with it?" asked Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL).

Sen. Durbin accused the White House of selectively declassifying information that served its interests while attacking him for purportedly releasing classified information. He defended himself against such accusations in a floor statement on July 22:

Administration officials reportedly leaked the name of a CIA clandestine services officer as an act of intimidation directed at her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who has been a leading critic of White House statements on Iraq. If true, this could be a violation of the law, including the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. The story is laid out by David Corn of The Nation in "A White House Smear":

The White House denied responsibility. "That is not the way this President or this White House operates," said spokesman Scott McClellan. "And there is absolutely no information that has come to my attention or that I have seen that suggests that there is any truth to that suggestion."

Questions regarding the politics of secrecy and disclosure may arise again in connection with the report of the Congressional Joint Inquiry, which is being released today in selectively redacted form.


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

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