Government Secrecy Reform Act Mr. MOYNIHAN. Mr. President, today the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence brings to the floor the conference report on the intelligence authorization bill. While I commend the Committee for bringing this legislation to the floor, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss a bill that the committee did not act on this year: the government Secrecy Reform Act (S. 712). This legislation stems from the unanimous recommendation of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy. Senator Jesse Helms and I, and Representatives Larry Combest and Lee Hamilton (all Commissioners), introduced the Government Secrecy Act in May 1997. The bill sets out a new legislative framework to govern our secrecy system. Our core objective is to ensure that secrecy proceed according to law. The proposed statute can help ensure that the present regulatory regime will not simply continue to flourish without any restraint and without meaningful oversight and accountability. A trenchant example of the need for reform in this area came last week by way of the Assassination Records Review Board. The Board has now completed its congressionally mandated review and release of documents related to President Kennedy's assassination. It has assembled at the National Archives a thorough collection of documents and evidence that was previously secret and scattered about the government. The Review Board found that while the public continues to search for answers over the past thirty-five years: [T]he official record on the assassination of President Kennedy remained shrouded in secrecy and mystery. The suspicions created by government secrecy eroded confidence in the truthfulness of federal agencies in general and damaged their credibility. Credibility eroded needlessly, as most of the documents which the Board reviewed were declassified. And at considerable cost, as it represents the best-known and most notorious conspiracy theory now extant: the unwillingness on the part of the vast majority of the American public to accept that President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone. Conspiracy theories have been with us since the birth of the Republic. This one seems to have only grown. A poll taken in 1966, two years after release of the Warren Commission report concluding that Oswald had acted alone, found that 36 percent of respondents accepted this finding, while 50 percent believed others had been involved in a conspiracy to kill the President. by 1978 only 18 percent responded that they believed the assassination had been the act of one man; fully 75 percent believed there had been a broader plot. The numbers have remained relatively steady since; a 1993 poll also found that three- quarters of those surveyed believed (consistent with the film JFK, released that year) that there had been a conspiracy. It so happens that I was in the White House at the hour of the President's death (I was an assistant labor secretary at the time). I feared what would become of him if he were not protected, and I pleaded that we must get custody of Oswald. But no one seemed to be able to hear. Presently Oswald was killed, significantly complicating matters. I did not think there had been a conspiracy to kill the president, but I was convinced that the American people would sooner or later come to believe that there had been one unless we investigated the event with exactly that presumption in mind. The Warren Commission report and the other subsequent investigations, with their nearly universal reliance on secrecy, did not dispel any such fantasies. In conducting this document-by-document review of classified information, the Board reports that ``the federal government needlessly and wastefully classified and then withheld from public access countless important records that did not require such treatment.'' How to explain this? Beginning with the concept that secrecy should be understood as a form of government regulation. This was an insight of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy, which I chaired, building on the work of the great German sociologist Max Weber, who wrote some eight decades ago: The pure interest of the bureaucracy in power, however, is efficacious far beyond those areas where purely functional interests make for secrecy. The concept of the `official secret' is the specific invention of bureaucracy, and nothing is so fantastically defended by the bureaucracy as this attitude, which cannot be substantially defended beyond these specifically qualified areas. What we traditionally think of in this country as regulation concerns how citizens are to behave. Whereas public regulation involves what the citizen may do, secrecy concerns what that citizen may know. And the citizen does not know what may not be known. As our Commission stated: ``Americans are familiar with the tendency to overregulate in other areas. What is different with secrecy is that the public cannot know the extent or the content of the regulation.'' Thus, secrecy is the ultimate mode of regulation; the citizen does not even know that he or she is being regulated! It is a parallel regulatory regime with a far greater potential for damage if it malfunctions. In our democracy, where the free exchange of ideas is so essential, it can be suffocating. And so the Commission recommended that legislation must be enacted. The Majority and Minority Leaders have been persuaded on the necessity of such legislation and are cosponsors of the bill. On March 3, 1998, we engaged in a colleague on the bill with the two Leaders, along with myself, Senators Helms, Thompson, Glenn, Shelby, and Kerrey. At that time we all agreed on the importance of considering the bill in this session. The Majority Leader stated, ``I hope that this process of committee consideration can be completed this spring and that we can expeditiously schedule floor time for legislation addressing this important issue. The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Senator Thompson, considered the bill and approved it unanimously on July 22. In its report to accompany the bill, the Committee had this important insight: Our liberties depend on the balanced structure created by James Madison and the other framers of the Constitution. The national security information system has not had a clear legislative foundation, but . . . has been developed through a series of executive orders. It is time to bring this executive monopoly over the issue to an end, and to begin to engage in the same sort of dialogue between Congress and the executive that characterizes the development of government policy in all other means. We are not proposing putting an end to government secrecy. Far from it. It is at times terribly necessary and used for the most legitimate reasons--ranging from military operations to diplomatic endeavors. Indeed, much of our Commission's report is devoted to explaining the varied circumstances in which secrecy is most essential. Yet, the bureaucratic attachment to secrecy has become so warped that, in the words of Kermit Hall, a member of the Assassination Records Review Board, it has transformed into ``a deeply ingrained commitment to secrecy as a form of patriotism.'' Secrecy need not remain the only norm--particularly when one considers that the current badly overextended system frequently fails to protect its most important secrets adequately. We must develop what might be termed a competing ``culture of openness''--fully consistent with our interests in protecting national security, but in which power and authority are no longer derived primarily from one's ability to withhold information from others in government and the public at large. Unfortunately, the Intelligence Committee did not take up this bill. Part of the delay was a result of the tardy administration response to the changes made by the Governmental Affairs Committee. A formal letter on the bill was not delivered until September 17. In addition, this letter sought the removal of the ``balancing test'' contained in the bill, a change that the administration had not previously sought. Nevertheless, we were on the threshold of reaching agreement on the bill. The Intelligence Committee has been reviewing the bill informally, and I hope the Chairman will agree that the difference between us are not that great, and that we can pass the bill early in the 106th Congress. [[Page S11906]] I ask unanimous consent that the letter expressing the administration views on the bill be printed in the Record at this point, along with comments on the letter made in a joint letter by the National Security Archives and the Federation of American Scientists, and a letter by Representative Lee Hamilton. There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: Congress of the United States, House of Representatives, Washington, DC, October 2, 1998. Mr. Steven Aftergood, Federation of American Scientists 307 Massachusetts, Ave.,NE., Washington, DC. Dear Mr. Aftergood, Thank you for your letter of September 24, 1998, concerning National Security Adviser Sandy Berger's letter to me with the Administration's views on S. 712, The Government Secrecy Reform Act of 1998. I agree with you. I think it is a serious mistake to accept the elimination of the public-interest balancing test as the price for Administration support of the bill. To agree with the Administration's proposed changes would amount to gutting the bill. It would amount to a codification of existing procedures in the Executive branch, and a rejection of the work of the Secrecy Commission. I want to work with the Administration in support of secrecy reform, but I cannot accept a revised bill that does not change the unacceptable status quo on classification and declassification. As I read it, secrecy reform is dead in the current Congress. In the absence of Administration support, moving the bill forward just will not be possible. On a personal note, I want to say that the efforts of you and your organization have been very helpful to me and to advocates of secrecy reform, and I wish you every success in the 106th Congress. With best regards, Sincerely, Lee H. Hamilton, Ranking Democratic Member. ____ September 24, 1998. Re S. 712, the Government Secrecy Reform Act of 1998 Hon. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, United States Senate, Washington, DC. Dear Senator Moynihan: As three public-interest organizations that have collectively spent more than 50 years battling excessive government secrecy imposed in the name of national security, we write to applaud S. 712, the Government Secrecy Reform Act of 1998, as a truly important and unprecedented step towards reforming the Cold War secrecy system. The bill includes the critical ingredient for any real reform, namely the public-interest balancing test and judicial review under the Freedom of Information Act applying that test. The public-interest balancing test--whereby classification standards must incorporate a weighing of the public interest in knowing the information against the harm to the national security from disclosure--was one of the key recommendations of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy in 1997. And the experience of the past 20 years confirms that Congress was correct in 1974, when it recognized that an essential element for an effective Freedom of Information Act is judicial review of whether classification standards are being properly applied when government agencies refuse to release information. For these reasons, we are deeply disappointed that the Administration objects to the bill's inclusion of the public- interest balancing test for declassification and the concomitant amendment to the Freedom of Information Act. (Letter from Samuel R. Berger to Lee Hamilton, September 17, 1998; secs 2(c) and (f) in S. 712 as reported out of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs.) The Administration's demand to eliminate from the bill the balancing test and its enforcement under the FOIA threatens to eviscerate the bill and to gut any real reform. If the bill were to be passed without these provisions, we fear that secrecy reform would suffer a grievous setback. The historic opportunity carved out by the Commission to advance reform beyond the status quo will have been missed, and instead the Congress risks codifying a Cold War understanding of national security secrecy that ill serves democratic principles. While we understand that the Administration's objections may make it difficult to pass the bill as reported out of Committee in this session of Congress, we urge you to insist on keeping these provisions in the bill. We believe that the administration's objections can be overridden, if not in this Congress, then in the next one. The objections are based on a dangerous and erroneous view that the President has absolute and unreviewable authority over national security information. This view of exclusive authority challenges not only the judiciary's constitutional role in enforcing the law but also Congress' shared responsibility for national security information. It is inconsistent with the Supreme Court precedent, (See, EPA v. Mink, 410 U.S. 73 (1973) and contradicts decades of congressional legislating. (Most recently, the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, but also the JFK Assassinations Records Collection Act, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1992 (concerning the Department of State's Foreign Relations of the United States series), and the Intelligence Oversight Act, among others.) Indeed, this same argument was rejected by the Congress in 1974 when it overrode President Ford's veto of the amendment to the Freedom of Information Act providing that federal courts should determine whether information is properly classified. In now objection to judicial review, the administration is seeking to repeal the most important element of the FOIA. Moreover, the oft-cited specter of ``judicial intrusion on the President's constitutional authority'' is not grounded in any real historical experience. The bill would authorize judicial review to determine whether mid-level agency officials have correctly applied declassification standards. In reality, no federal court is ever going to release national security information over the objection of the President or even the head of an agency, and certainly no appeals court would uphold any such decision. At the same time, experience confirms that it is only the availability of judicial review that ensures that agencies do, in fact, live up to their legal obligations under the FOIA. For example, only when the CIA was forced to defend its withholding of the aggregate intelligence budget in 1997 in court did the agency finally release the information. As you have written, ``[s]ecrecry can be a source of dangerous ignorance. . . . It is time. . . . to assert certain American fundamentals, foremost of which is the right to know what government is doing, and the corresponding ability to judge its performance.'' These key provisions of the bill are essential to allow the public to do just that-- to participate effectively in the political process and to engage in democratic decision making on fundamental issues of foreign policy and national security. Thank you for considering our views. Sincerely yours, Kate Martin, Center for National Security Studies. Steven Aftergood, Federation of American Scientists. Thomas Blanton, National Security Archive. ____ The White House, Washington, September 17, 1998. Hon. Lee Hamilton, Ranking Democratic Member, Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, Washington, DC. Dear Lee: Thank you for your letter inquiring about the Administration's views on S. 712, the Government Secrecy Reform Act of 1998, which was reported out of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs in July. I wrote to Chairman Thompson on May 11, 1998, conveying Administration views on this legislation; a copy of that letter is enclosed. The amended version of S. 712 incorporates most of the Administration's recommendations regarding the Office of National Classification and Declassification Oversight (NCDO); the use of classification and declassification guidance; and the need to ensure that declassification decisions are made only by the originating agency. The Committee also clearly tried to address our concerns about new rights of judicial review, but further clarification on this vital point is necessary. The additional improvements in S. 712 that we believe are essential are discussed below. Based on recent discussions with staff of Chairman Thompson. Senator Moynihan, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I am hopeful that needed changes can be made that would enable the Administration to endorse this legislation. For each of the key issues, our suggestions are included in a line-in/line- out version of S. 712 enclosed with this letter. 1. The bill must be modified to make it unambiguously clear that this legislation confers no new rights of judicial review. While the text of Section 6 attempts to limit judicial review, the interplay of other sections would create new substantive and procedural rights. Section 2(c), which requires a national security/public interest balancing test before classifying or declassifying any information, also sets forth specific standards for defining harm to national security and the public interest. Section 2(f), which amends the FOIA, clearly would make the application of a balancing test subject to judicial review under FOIA. Indeed, the Government Affairs Committee Report states that ``the legislation necessarily imports into its new secrecy regime the judicial review available under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). For example, proper application of the public interest/national security balancing test would be within the scope of judicial review for Freedom of Information Act requests for classified information. * * *'' Since the bill was reported, we have considered several approaches to revising the balancing test language or adding additional language to limit judicial review. None of these approaches completely addresses the concern that legislating a mandatory balancing test could encourage judicial intrusion on the President's constitutional authority and transform the nature of judicial review of classification and declassification decisions in FOIA litigation. We have concluded that the balancing test must be eliminated in order to protect essential Presidential authority and to ensure that the legislation introduces no new rights of judicial review. 2. Section 2(d) would forbid the classification of any information for more than 10 [[Page S11907]] years, without the concurrence of the head of the NCDO and a written certification to the President. Since over half of all original classification decisions made under E.O. 12958 are properly designated for more than 10 years (down from 95% under the previous Executive Order), implementation of this requirement would be unworkable without the employment of a huge new bureaucracy at the NCDO and hundreds of new certification writers at the agencies. The standards for duration of classification must be rewritten to make them compatible with the E.O. 12958 standards. 3. Section 4 establishes a Classification and Declassification Review Board, consisting exclusively of non- Government employees, to decide appeals from the public or agencies of decisions made by agencies or the NCDO. Agencies may appeal decisions of this Board only to the President. Given the new oversight authority assigned to the Director of the NCDO, and the existing rights of FOIA or Executive Order appeal, this new entity is redundant and unnecessary, and it is likely to be quite costly to operate. At a minimum, the legislation must be amended to permit the President to appoint Review Board members of his choosing, including current Government employees. 4. S. 712 locates the NCDO within the EOP, which is highly problematic given the traditional constraints on the budget and staffing levels of the EOP. Therefore, we believe the best organizational placement for the NCDO is the National Archives and Records Administration, which has a strong institutional commitment to declassifying public records as expeditiously as possible consistent with protecting national security interests. That said, we also would recommend the addition of language that would codify an ongoing NSC role in providing policy guidance to the NCDO and would enhance the prospects of adequate funding for the NCDO. With a continued NSC imprimatur and adequate assured funding, organizational placement outside the EOP would be a much less difficult issue. 5. Section 2(c)(4) requiring detailed written justifications for all classification decisions is the kind of administrative detail that should be left to the discretion of the executive branch. As drafted, this provision would increase paperwork and cost, without any assurance of improving classification decisions or the management of the program. However, we agree that it would make sense to require detailed justifications whenever classification decisions are incorporated into an agency's classification guide. 6. Section 3(d)(7) should be modified to limit NCDO access to the most sensitive records associated with a special access program. Limiting access to such records is consistent with E.O. 12958 but will not undermine the NCDO's ability to oversee special access programs. I appreciate your continuing leadership on this matter. By working together on the difficult remaining issues, I think we have a chance to establish a statutory framework for the classification and declassification program that enhances the President's authority to manage the program effectively. Sincerely, Samuel R. Berger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.