from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 51
April 27, 2006

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A large fraction of the documents that were withdrawn from public access at the National Archives on purported national security grounds over the past several years did not meet the standard for classification and should not have been removed, according to an official audit of the activity released yesterday.

"This audit identified a significant number of withdrawal actions for classification purposes as inappropriate. Of the records sampled to date, 24 percent were clearly inappropriate and 12 percent were questionable." See:

While focused on historical documents at the National Archives, the audit serves in effect as a snapshot of classification activity throughout the government, and it implies that a sizeable fraction of agency classification actions have no legitimate national security basis.

"To be effective, the classification process is a tool that must be wielded with precision," said William Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office, which performed the audit at the direction of Archivist Allen Weinstein.

"It is disappointing to note, as indicated by the sample contained in this audit, that even trained classifiers, with ready access to the latest classification and declassification guides, and trained in their use, got it clearly right only 64% of the time in making determinations as to the appropriateness of continued classification," Mr. Leonard said.

"The damage such practices can inflict on the integrity of the classification system cannot be denied," he said.

At a time when the Bush Administration is prosecuting even the receipt of classified information, and Members of Congress are seeking new measures to penalize leaks, the new data on overclassification tend to undermine the very premise of such actions.

Archivist Weinstein and Mr. Leonard of ISOO announced a series of steps to address the immediate issue of document withdrawal at the Archives as well as the larger issue of overclassification and misclassification.

"I am writing to all agency heads asking for their personal attention in ensuring that all of us engaged in advancing our country's security perform our duty to ensure the highest effectiveness of this critical national security tool (i.e. classification)," Mr. Leonard said.

He said that several of the existing provisions in the executive order and implementing directive on classification could help to mitigate classification errors, including: challenges to classification, sanctions for unwarranted classification, and audits of classified collections.

"They just haven't been used," he said.


In 1970, the U.S. spent $6 billion on intelligence, according to a newly published account of a meeting that President Richard M. Nixon held with his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in July 1970.

"The President stated that the US is spending $6 billion per year on intelligence and deserves to receive a lot more for its money than it has been getting," stated the record of the meeting, which was published in the latest volume of the State Department's Foreign Relations of the United States series.

What makes this observation startling rather than banal is that the Central Intelligence Agency has gone to great lengths to try to keep such historical intelligence budget data out of the public domain.

In response to a 2001 Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for aggregate and individual intelligence agency budget figures from 1947 through 1970, the CIA fought for five years to block disclosure of such information. Last year, D.C. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ruled in favor of the CIA (Aftergood v. CIA, Case No. 01-2524).

John E. McLaughlin, then-Acting Director of Central Intelligence, swore under oath that such disclosures could not be tolerated. "Disclosure of [historical] intelligence budget information could assist in finding the locations of secret intelligence appropriations and thus defeat... congressionally approved clandestine funding mechanisms," argued Mr. McLaughlin in a September 14, 2004 declaration (pdf).

Now some of the historical intelligence budget information that the CIA refused to disclose has been published by the U.S. State Department.

See "Record of President's Meeting with the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board," July 18, 1970:

President Nixon "could not put up with people lying to him about intelligence or giving warped evaluations," the 1970 document continued.

"He believed that those responsible for deliberate slanting of reports should be fired. The time may be coming when he would have to read the riot act to the entire intelligence community."


House Republicans foreclosed Democratic efforts to offer amendments on warrantless domestic surveillance and other controversial intelligence topics when the FY 2007 Intelligence Authorization Act was brought to the floor yesterday.

Instead, the House approved by a vote of 327-96 what Rep. Leonard Boswell (R-Iowa) described as "the largest intelligence budget in our history."

Democratic amendments, such as a proposal that domestic surveillance be conducted consistent with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, were blocked in the Rules Committee so they could not be debated.

"We are not even going to be allowed to vote on an amendment that would deal with this central constitutional question," complained Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA).

"We are now in the process of instructing the people of Iraq about how to ruin parliamentary democracy," he said. "If anybody from the Iraqi Parliament is watching our procedures, please do not try this at home."

See the April 26 House floor debate here:

The House Rules Committee report which identifies the Democratic amendments that were ruled out of order is House Report 109-438, available here:


In the Senate, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) yesterday introduced a bill to require the White House to notify Congress when it declassifies intelligence information.

The bill was prompted by recent reports that the President selectively authorized certain disclosures by Vice Presidential aide Scooter Libby without informing the originating agency or other interested persons that the disclosed information was declassified.

"If the President declassifies information so that his subordinates can discuss intelligence with reporters, Congress should be alerted so that the intelligence committees can ensure that national secrets are not being used for political purposes," said Sen. Feinstein. See the introduction of her bill (S. 2660) here:


Some recent reports of the Congressional Research Service obtained by Secrecy News include the following:

"Renditions: Constraints Imposed by Laws on Torture," updated April 5, 2006:

"Treatment of 'Battlefield Detainees' in the War on Terrorism," updated March 27, 2006:

"Polygraph Use by the Department of Energy: Issues for Congress," updated April 7, 2006:

"Oversight of Dual-Use Biological Research: The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity," March 28, 2006:

"Nuclear Weapons: The Reliable Replacement Warhead Program," updated March 9, 2006:


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

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