from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 35
April 12, 2004


The declassification and release of an excerpt from the August 6, 2001 President's Daily Brief (PDB) on al Qaeda, wrote the Director of Central Intelligence in an April 10 declassification order, "shall not be deemed to constitute any precedent concerning any future declassification or release of any other PDB."

But this appears to be wishful thinking, and pressure for more such releases is already growing.

The extraordinarily rapid transition of the newly released document from being among "the most highly sensitive documents in the government" to a merely "historical" memo that can be openly published with minor deletions has glaringly exposed the arbitrary character of the national security classification system. And it inevitably invites further challenges, despite the DCI's strictures.

"If the American people really want to get a full analysis of what happened, these PDBs are an important part of this landscape," said 9-11 Commission member Bob Kerrey in the Washington Post today. "We need complete access to all of them."

The pretense of inviolable secrecy surrounding the PDB is unfounded, in any case. The National Security Archive has published ten PDBs that are in the public domain (newly updated with supplemental material at

Furthermore, contrary to recent denials by CIA spokesmen, the CIA itself has declassified portions of past PDBs when it suited the Agency's interests to do so.

Thus, former DCI Robert M. Gates received CIA permission to characterize and to quote verbatim from two PDBs in his 1996 memoir "From the Shadows," including the September 2, 1983 PDB on the Soviet shoot-down of KAL-007 (at page 267) and a passage from the August 17, 1991 PDB on the impending break up of the USSR (at page 521) (thanks to Jim Dempsey).

A copy of the newly disclosed excerpt from the August 6, 2001 President's Daily Brief, entitled "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US," is available here:

A White House Fact Sheet that purports to explain how the PDB should be understood is available here:

The transcript of a White House background briefing on the release of the PDB is available here:

The release of the PDB is "the latest example of how political imperatives sometimes force officials to set aside the government's normal procedures for classifying and declassifying national security information," wrote Robert Pear in the New York Times.

See "Politics Can Get in the Way of Keeping Papers Secret," April 10:


In another recent example of politically-driven declassification of ostensibly "top secret" information, the White House has released two partial sentences from the September 4, 2001 draft National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 9 on combating terrorism.

The point of the release was to document that the Defense Department had been instructed to plan for military options against Taliban and al Qaeda targets prior to the September 11 attacks.

See the declassified White House description of NSPD 9 here (thanks to Michael Evans):


In the face of intense pressure from the Bush Administration to affirm the USA Patriot Act and to extend all of its provisions beyond their 2005 "sunset," there is bipartisan movement in Congress to amend certain provisions of the Act and to place new checks on the authorities it provided.

"Given the bipartisan opposition to the [Patriot Act] at this moment as it currently stands, there are many of us who believe it is necessary to make some adjustments in the law as we move toward reauthorization," said Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), an original sponsor of the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act to amend the Patriot Act.

"The SAFE Act restores what I believe is the proper level of judicial oversight in the process," said Sen. Craig.

The Ashcroft Justice Department opposes the measure.

See the April 7 Senate colloquy on the SAFE Act here:


"Information Sharing and Homeland Security" was the subject of a seminar last month at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. Several meaty papers presented by senior analysts and policy makers are now available here:

The Department of Energy released its latest quarterly report on inadvertent disclosures of classified nuclear weapons information through the declassification of historical records. As before, the most common inadvertent releases concern the location of historical nuclear weapons depots and stockpile quantities. See:

The status and conduct of defense intelligence programs were examined in some depth in an April 7 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The prepared testimony from that hearing is available here:


The trial, conviction and sentencing last month of the infectious disease specialist Thomas C. Butler on charges of improperly transporting hazardous materials were critically and angrily reviewed by his Texas Tech University colleague and supporter, the distinguished geologist Thomas M. Lehman.

See Dr. Lehman's April 9 open letter here:


An exceptionally vivid sense of the grievances, obsessions and motivations of an Islamic enemy of the United States can be gleaned from the statement of accused Jordanian terrorist and Ansar al-Islam figure Abu Musab Zarqawi, which was broadcast last week in the Arabic media.

Behind the Islamist hyperventilating, an itemized complaint can be discerned: the U.S. is bent on seizing the region's natural resources, defending the security of Israel, and deflecting the rise of Islam.

"America came to spread obscenity and vice and establish its decadence and ribald culture in the name of freedom and democracy. It hopes to remold the region and change its political, religious, and cultural map according to its personal interests."

As much as he hates Americans and Jews, Zarqawi loathes Shiite Muslims even more.

"They (Shiites) harbor more evil and rancor against Muslims, big and small, devout and non-devout, than anyone else...To them, anyone who does not believe in the infallible Imam (Al-Mahdi) -- who incidentally does not exist -- is a nonbeliever in God and the prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him."

Seething with anger, resentment and an insatiable longing for transcendence or death, the author threatens continued, escalating violence against American and Shia targets in Iraq.

The Zarqawi statement also includes improbable lines like "Listen, O Muslims, to the words of Leslie Gelb, president of the Council on Foreign Relations in an article in The New York Times."

See the April 6 statement, translated by the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service, here:


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

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