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DoD News Briefing

Tuesday, November 7, 2000
Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA


Q: The president, on Saturday, vetoed the Intelligence Authorization Act, citing the anti-leak provision. Where did the Pentagon come down on that in terms of the internal deliberations? Were you for a veto or against a veto?

MR. BACON: Well, first of all, we are against leaks -- that's the first point to stress -- and we are for ways to stop leaks. There were obviously differences within the government about the best way to do this. Some people felt that the provision in the Intelligence Authorization Act was the best way to proceed; others felt that it was too clumsy, too sweeping a provision, and that's the way the president came down in deciding to veto it. I think it's not fair to say that the Defense Department had a monolithic view on this. Members of the department were very involved in the considerations.

Q: Where was the weight of the opinion, though? Was it for -- was it that the provision was too draconian or well-crafted?

MR. BACON: The weight of the opinion was that we have to do a better job of controlling leaks than we have; that leaks are dangerous to serving military personnel, and dangerous to our ability to collect intelligence, and that we will work with Congress to find the best possible way to do that. Obviously, there were a range of feelings in the building about this particular provision. Members of the department participated actively in conversations at the White House. And I don't want to talk about individual advice.

Q: Did Cohen render an opinion?

MR. BACON: I don't want to talk about individual advice that anybody gave to the president.

Q: He's the secretary.

MR. BACON: He is the secretary.

Q: He's not like some Joe Colonel.

MR. BACON: He is the secretary, and he has made it very clear from this first day in office, and he will make it clear to his last day in office, that he's not going to describe, or certainly allow me to describe private advice that he gives to the president.

Q: Ken, in the course of analyzing the legislation, was there at least an opinion or a voice that this building chronically over-classifies, and that a lot of these leaks of classified information, it's not really classified information at all, that there's a chronic problem with the "secret" stamp here?

MR. BACON: Did you read the president's veto message?

Q: Yeah, I did --

MR. BACON: Well, I mean, he alluded to the fact that there can be over-classification or misclassification.

I don't think anybody disagrees with that. There are many problems with our classification system. And it was that realization, in part, that led to his decision to -- as I read the veto message -- his decision to veto the bill. Having said that, many of the leaks that have come out, that have been published in the last several years, have been, in fact, damaging leaks based on legitimately classified information. They have been damaging because they reveal sources and methods and, therefore, make it harder for us to deal with our allies in intelligence-sharing operations and harder for us to carry out our normal intelligence-gathering operations.

Q: Many of the leaks? I mean, most of the leaks here is the Washington Times getting signals intelligence. That doesn't seem like "many."

MR. BACON: I would say many leaks have been damaging.


Q: Is everything that you tell us, by definition, unclassified?

MR. BACON: Is everything I tell you, by definition, unclassified?

Q: From the podium.

MR. BACON: That's a tricky question. There are certain questions that I can only answer by referring to classified information, and I do this carefully, after consultation with our intelligence authorities, to make sure that I don't answer questions in a way that causes any problems. And I meet frequently with people from the various intelligence agencies. They come to my briefings and they advise me on how to deal with classified information. So I think that's the best answer I can give you. I refer to classified information a lot. I work very hard not to give away details that would damage our ability to collect classified information.

Q: But do you, in fact, have the authority to make that judgment call on items that might be included in classified information; that you would, in effect, declassify them when you announce them at a briefing?

Is that --

MR. BACON: Well, I think technically, the agency or person who classifies the information is the person to declassify it -- the declassifying authority. What I try to do is figure out ways that I can respond to your questions without compromising our intelligence apparatus.

So, without putting too fine a point on it, there are certain types of questions that can only be answered with references to classified information such as, where are Iraqi troops on a given day? And that was one of the concerns that I and other spokespeople had about the provision of the Intelligence Authorization Act that, read in a very narrow way, it would prevent reference to classified information in answering everyday questions.

Q: Thank you.

MR. BACON: Sure.

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