from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 96
October 11, 2005


The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) will hold a public symposium at the National Archives on October 18 to mark the tenth anniversary of an executive order that initiated significant changes in the national security classification system.

Executive Order 12958, which took effect in October 1995, triggered an avalanche of declassification of historically valuable records that surpassed one billion pages last year. It also created bureaucratic innovations like the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel that has served as an alternate venue for members of the public to challenge agency classification decisions.

But the executive order did little or nothing to combat the systemic overclassification that the 9/11 Commission and others identified as a flaw in the nation's security.

In fact, the order, amended by President Bush in 2003, has permitted a massive expansion of classification activity in recent years. This, in turn, has contributed to the erosion of government accountability and the impoverishment of public deliberation on matters of war and peace, humane treatment of enemy prisoners, and government surveillance, among other topics.

The ISOO symposium brings together representatives of government agencies, journalists, academics and public interest groups to assess the state of classification policy today. For more information, see:


The record of the confirmation hearing of John D. Negroponte to be Director of National Intelligence, which has just been published, provides some new scraps of information about his understanding of the Director's role and his views on various intelligence policy issues.

Since taking office, DNI Negroponte has kept a low profile as he quietly consolidated power over the massive U.S. intelligence bureaucracy. The record of his April 12, 2005 hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence provides a large fraction of his oral and written public statements on intelligence, including answers to pre-hearing questions and post-hearing questions for the record.

What happens if the DNI wishes to terminate a national intelligence program that the Secretary of Defense wants to preserve? (In the case of a DoD program, the President decides.) Where does the DNI stand on disclosure of the aggregate intelligence budget, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission and endorsed last year by the Senate? (He would be willing to study it, but "The President made clear his opposition to declassification.")

These and many other such matters are discussed in "Nomination of Ambassador John D. Negroponte to be Director of National Intelligence," Senate Intelligence Committee, S. Hrg. 109-79, April 12, 2005:


The Supreme Court should critically examine government claims that national security secrecy requires the dismissal of the lawsuit brought by FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, several public interest groups argued in an amicus brief filed with the Court on October 10.

Citing the growing consensus within the government that too much information is classified, the brief argues that simple judicial deference to classification claims is inappropriate.

"We are asking courts to take a harder look," said Meredith Fuchs, General Counsel at the National Security Archive and principal author of the amicus brief.

See "Archive and Openness Advocates Urge Supreme Court: Tell Lower Courts to Scrutinize Government Secrecy Claims":


Some new or newly acquired reports of the Congressional Research Service obtained by Secrecy News include the following:

"Renditions: Constraints Imposed by Laws on Torture," updated September 22, 2005:

"U.S. Military Operations in the Global War on Terrorism: Afghanistan, Africa, the Philippines, and Colombia," August 26, 2005:

"Presidential and Vice Presidential Succession: Overview and Current Legislation," updated September 27, 2004:

"High-Threat Chemical Agents: Characteristics, Effects, and Policy Implications," updated September 9, 2003:


Among the more peculiar artifacts of the culture of secrecy are the wall posters produced and distributed by government agencies in order to instill security awareness and promote compliance with security requirements.

Many of these wall posters are simple-minded to an extreme, based on weak puns or failed attempts at humor and combined with mediocre production values. Occasionally, they achieve such a intense concentration of stupidity that the viewer is helplessly transported to another plane of existence.

A representative sample of security posters was collected and introduced by Dan Dupont of who was guest-blogging on here:


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

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