from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 78
September 22, 2003


President Bush's Executive Order on national security classification and declassification, which was issued last March, came into force today, September 22.

Executive Order 13292, which was framed as an amendment to President Clinton's 1995 Executive Order 12958 rather than a replacement of it, preserves the basic structure of its predecessor.

In particular, the Bush order endorses the requirement for automatic declassification, while deferring its effective date for a few years. Thus, according to a new implementing directive published today:

"No later than December 31, 2006, all classified records that are more than 25 years old and have been determined to have permanent historical value will be automatically declassified whether or not the records have been reviewed."

The idea of declassifying a record without review is a radical innovation that challenges the deepest instincts of security bureaucrats. But it offers the only practical hope of making the huge backlog of classified historical records publicly available. Still, it remains a hope, not yet a fact.

"As much as we've been talking about automatic declassification for the last several years, we have yet to automatically declassify a single document," said William Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), who issued today's implementing directive. "But now we are on a path to make that happen."

Mr. Leonard spoke September 16 at a presentation before the American Society of Access Professionals.

He recalled that "In the one conversation I've had on the subject with the National Security Adviser [Condoleezza Rice], she said, 'We have to make that December 2006 deadline [for automatic declassification] a reality'."

A copy of ISOO Directive No. 1 on classified national security information, published in the Federal Register on September 22, may be found here:


President Bush last week granted the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) the authority to classify information Top Secret. The OSTP Director previously had authority to classify only up to the Secret level.

The White House did not provide a justification for the move, which modestly increases the [perceived] stature of the White House science advisor.

In the past two years, the President has delegated new classification authority to the heads of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Agriculture.

As of last year, there were a total of 4,006 persons in the executive branch authorized to generate classified information ("original classification authorities"), according to the Information Security Oversight Office.

A copy of the President's September 17 designation of the OSTP Director as a Top Secret classification authority may be found here:


A speech from the Attorney General is not enough to assure many Americans that their rights are being respected and their interests protected. A concern that the government has overstepped its lawful boundaries in the name of confronting terrorism is now practically mainstream.

"Two years after the terror attacks of 9/11, the relationship between the U.S. government and the people it serves has dramatically changed," according to a new report by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. "This 'new normal' of U.S. governance is defined by 'the loss of particular freedoms for some, and worse, a detachment from the rule of law as a whole'."

See "Assessing the New Normal: Liberty and Security for the Post-September 11 United States," Lawyers Committee on Human Rights, September 2003:

"How the war on terrorism affects access to information and the public's right to know" is the subject of a newly updated study from the Reporters Committee on Freedom of the Press.

See "Homefront Confidential," fourth edition, September 2003:


The NASA Galileo mission to Jupiter that ended September 21 with a directed burnup in Jupiter's atmosphere has been widely hailed as one of the most spectacular and scientifically productive in the history of the space program. It was also conducted with an unusual degree of transparency.

The Galileo probe became a source of controversy in the 1980s because it was powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators fueled with plutonium-238. Environmentalists and others worried about the potential for radioactive contamination due to a launch accident or as a result of atmospheric reentry from orbit or during high velocity Earth flyby.

After some equivocation, NASA and especially the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) decided that openness was the best way to address such concerns.

Whole bookshelves of program documents, design studies, technical assessments and environmental reviews were publicly released under the Freedom of Information Act, or simply upon request.

Galileo project manager John Casani willingly engaged critics and interested members of the public on safety issues and anything else. In at least one case, Mr. Casani somewhat fearlessly invited a critic to come over to JPL to inspect the spacecraft in its secure "clean room" and to pose any question, and raise any objection.

Openness was not a panacea for the government. Some of the Galileo documents that NASA and JPL released under the FOIA were used by opponents in a lawsuit that sought unsuccessfully to block its 1989 launch. The controversy also served to nurture an activist movement, the Global Network against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, that remains resolutely opposed to space nuclear power in any form.

But with all its ups and downs, the Galileo probe did what it set out to do, extending human awareness into new domains, and it did so in a manner worthy of a democratic society.

The Galileo project home page is here:


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

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