The First Amendment Center posted the full-text of the 2008 National FOI Day Conference's keynote speech, "A New Balancing Test: How Excessive Classification Undermines National Security" by J. William Leonard, former chief of the Information Security Oversight Office.
Leonard quipped that his remarks on government secrecy would be his most candid, "a sort of ‘Leonard Unplugged’ if you will for those of you into the MTV scene". He discussed instances of excessive secrecy that produced serious consequences, including the decision to go to war in Iraq, stating, "Secrecy comes at a price - sometimes a deadly price - often through its impact upon the decision-making process".
He also proposed a new way for government officials to determine whether information needs to be classified in the interest of national security; what he calls the "New Balancing Test":
"We are long familiar with what many regard as the “traditional” balancing test of national security versus openness – of secrecy versus transparency. Instead, the balancing test of which I talk is more along the lines of national security versus national security; i.e. what will cause greater damage to national security, the disclosing or withholding of specific information".
The FAS Project on Government Secrecy Blog contains an informative post about secret sessions of the House of Representatives, including one that took place on March 13th to consider classified matters concerning the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
For more information about secret sessions, read "Secret Sessions of the House and Senate" and "Secret Sessions of Congress: A Brief Historical Overview," by the Congressional Research Service. I knew that the Senate held secret sessions (54 since 1929), but I did not know that the House only held three secret sessions since 1830 and they took place in 1979, 1980, and 1983! However, there were unsuccessful attempts to hold a secret session to discuss the assessment of the war in Iraq in 2006 (search for page H7371) and the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2008 (pages H4795-4796, H4808, and H4867-68). Also, the proceedings of a secret session are not published unless the House or Senate votes to release them. If they vote to release them, then the transcripts will be printed in the Congressional Record, but if the House votes not to release them, then the they are preserved at NARA and may be available to the public after 30 years.
Today I was searching the shelves of my depository for a report related to the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance and instead my eyes fell on this publication from the CIA:
Donovan and the CIA : a history of the establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency
by Thomas F Troy
Publisher: [Langley, Va.?] : Central Intelligence Agency, Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1981.
SuDoc: PREX 3.10:D71
This is the official story of how the CIA came to be. According to the preface, it was written in 1975 as an account of the agency's origin for new employees. It was promptly stamped SECRET. In 1981, the agency released a declassified edition which the preface hails as being "released for leisurely reading outside the office, and printed in one volume, this history should better serve it's original purpose."
What made the CIA decide it could let its secret origin story out of the shadows? According to the preface, it was the excision of no more than six typewritten pages. Obviously, I haven't seen the missing six pages, but doesn't this case make it seem like the classification process is a little whimsical?
The book is divided into three sections: "The COI (Coordinator of Information) Story" which covers from about 1929 to World War II, Wartime--The OSS Story and Postwar--The CIA Story, which ends with the establishment of the CIA. If anyone's read this volume, let us know what you think.
As far as I can tell, the book has no electronic version. Google Books has a commercial version with no preview. Perhaps one day the government document version, which is in the public domain, will be posted. Might be interesting to run a tag cloud on the text.
The electronic world has given us many gifts, but I'm not sure it could deliver an experience of serendipity like the printed shelf did for me today. From welfare to spies.
On a personal note, thanks to everyone who has sent words of appreciation to me regarding my being named as a Library Journal 2008 Mover and Shaker. I really think this is an award that in a real sense belongs to the entire documents community and especially to my co-volunteers here at FGI and the dozens of folks working on State Agency Databases Across the Fifty States. Thanks to each and every one of you who contributes to finding, describing, and making government information available to people in a way that respects their privacy. Without you I'd just be a mouth on legs.
The National Security Archive has posted more than a dozen declassified documents from 1991-1992 about the Defense Planning Guidance (DPG). These were prepared by the Pentagon under the Secretary of Defense of that time, Richard Cheney.
- "Prevent the Reemergence of a New Rival" The Making of the Cheney Regional Defense Strategy, 1991-1992, National Security Archive, The George Washington University, February 26, 2008.
One aspect of this release that is noteworthy is the insight it provides into government secrecy, classification and declassification, and the accuracy and completeness of the historical record. As the NSA says:
Remarkably, these new releases censor a half dozen large sections of text that The New York Times printed on March 8, 1992, as well as a number of phrases that were officially published by the Pentagon in January 1993. "On close inspection none of those deleted passages actually meet the standards for classification because embarrassment is not a legal basis for secrecy," remarked Tom Blanton, director of the Archive."
The NSA displays the language that the Times publicized side-by-side with the relevant portions of the February 18, 1992 draft that was the subject of the leak.
The documents are fascinating:
The word "preempt" does not appear in the declassified language, but Document 10 includes wording about "disarming capabilities to destroy" which is followed by several excised words. This suggests that some of the heavily excised pages in the still-classified DPG drafts may include some discussion of preventive action against threatening nuclear and other WMD programs. The excisions are currently under appeal at the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP).
Army Says It Will Restore Public Access to Online Library. by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News. Feb 21, 2008.
The U.S. Army said today that it would restore public access to the online Reimer Digital Library of Army publications, after having blocked the site on February 6.The U.S. Army said today that it would restore public access to the online Reimer Digital Library of Army publications, after having blocked the site on February 6.
The next president should open up the Bush Administration's record, By Steven Aftergood, Nieman Watchdog February 07, 2008
The next President will have the authority to declassify and disclose any and all records that reflect the activities of executive branch agencies. Although internal White House records that document the activities of the outgoing President and his personal advisers will be exempt from disclosure for a dozen years or so, every Bush Administration decision that was actually translated into policy will have left a documentary trail in one or more of the agencies, and all such records could be disclosed at the discretion of the next President.
Army Blocks Public Access to Digital Library by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News, Feb. 13, 2008.
Public access to the Reimer Digital Library, which is the largest online collection of U.S. Army doctrinal publications, has been blocked by the Army, which last week moved the collection behind a password-protected firewall.
But today the Federation of American Scientists filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking the Army to provide a copy of the entire unclassified Library so that it could be posted on the FAS web site.
The Army move on February 6 marks the latest step in an ongoing withdrawal of government records from the public domain....
The move came as a surprise since only unclassified and non-sensitive records had ever been made available at the Library site.
The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), an advisory committee established by Congress to "promote the fullest possible public access to a thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of significant U.S. national security decisions and activities" has released a report with recommendations on improving declassification.
- Improving Declassification, A Report To The President From The Public Interest Declassification Board December 2007.
What can be put off is put off; what can go to the end of the queue goes to the end of the queue....
What appears to be missing is a common understanding of the public interest and a common approach to effectuating it....
The tasks ahead remain daunting, and the resources needed to meet existing deadlines and workloads will never be sufficient and are under constant threat of reduction.
- Panel Urges More Openness, Less Secrecy, by Pete Yost, Associated Press, Jan 9, 2008.
Scientists oppose move to restrict satellite data, by Les Blumenthal, McClatchy Newspapers, The Tacoma, WA News Tribune, January 13, 2008
There is a little-noticed but influential government committee known as the Civil Applications Committee, which, under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Geological Survey, reviews civilian requests for classified reconnaissance information that can be useful to scientists studying volcanoes, forest fires, earthquakes and landslides, climate change, hurricanes, flooding and pollution. Now the Bush administration plans to abolish the committee and create an office within the Department of Homeland Security to review such requests.
Rep. Norm Dicks, chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee with control over the Geological Survey and is the senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a letter to administration officials:
"We believe the elimination of the civilian orientation of the Civil Applications Committee represents explicit harm in the near term to USGS and other civilian federal agencies, and it represents a potentially serious harm over the longer term to the constitutional protections U.S. citizens expect and deserve."
Library Journal Academic Newswire reports that Bassem Youssef, the Chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) unit responsible for administering two warrantless search programs, who was scheduled to discuss "a number of critical failures within the FBI's counterterrorism program undermining the basic Constitutional rights of American citizens and threatening the effectiveness of America's counterterrorism effort" on Saturday, January 12, at the ALA's Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia will now "only be allowed to answer selected questions."
The FBI cited "rules concerning prepublication clearance of any potential speech." Youssef's lawyer says that these "are not the formal rules", that the FBI has not previously published them or incorporated into employment agreements, that they are secret, that they "constitute secret censorship requirements", and that "Mr. Youssef is prevented from showing these rules to anyone outside the FBI."
- FBI Agent's ALA Midwinter Talk "Censored." Library Journal Academic Newswire, January 10, 2008.