from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2007, Issue No. 71
July 13, 2007

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There are several practical steps that could be taken to improve national security classification and declassification policy, a House Intelligence subcommittee was told yesterday.

In my testimony at the July 12 hearing, chaired by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), I presented a menu of actionable proposals for the subcommittee to consider:

Agency inspectors general could be assigned to help oversee classification and declassification activity. A public database of declassified records could be created to enhance access to such records. A new format for National Intelligence Estimates could be adopted to permit broader dissemination of their contents.

The subcommittee members, including chairwoman Eshoo, ranking minority member Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), expressed satisfaction with the proposals. Several of the ideas, the members noted, could be quickly adopted, and would not require new appropriations or establishment of new organizations.

Additional insights into the current state of classification and declassification policy were provided at the hearing by Meredith Fuchs, general counsel at the National Security Archive, and J. William Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office. Copies of their prepared statements are here:

Mr. Leonard's statement previewed some of the findings of the 2006 ISOO Annual Report to the President, which is due to be released later today or Monday.


The expansion of official secrecy now poses a challenge to basic democratic processes, argues a new report from and People for the American Way.

In a highly readable account, the report explains why openness is a virtue, explores how secrecy impedes public deliberation, and considers what can be done about it.

"As Congress and the White House clash over this administration's unprecedented secrecy, Americans need to know the full scope of the problem," said Patrice McDermott, director of "It is up to us, with and through our elected officials, to preserve our heritage of open and accountable government."

See "Government Secrecy: Decisions without Democracy," written by David Banisar, July 2007:


Upon publication this month, "Legacy of Ashes" by Tim Weiner of the New York Times has all at once become the best single source on the history of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The book synthesizes entire shelves of prior studies, and surpasses them with the fruits of deep archival research and two decades of on-the-record interviews. The detailed endnotes provide pointers for further investigation.

Somewhat oddly, the book is framed as a "warning."

"It describes how the most powerful country in the history of Western civilization has failed to create a first-rate spy service. That failure constitutes a danger to the national security of the United States," Mr. Weiner writes.

The implication here is that the standard for excellence has been set by another intelligence agency, one that unlike CIA is "first rate." If so, it would be interesting to know which agency that is. (Not the KGB, certainly, nor the SIS or Mossad.)

If not, and if there is no consistently "first rate" intelligence service, then the problem may lie in an exaggerated expectation that any secret intelligence service can reliably "see things as they are in the world."


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

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