from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
September 14, 2001
CONGRESS RUSHES IN
- CONGRESS RUSHES IN
- DECLASSIFICATION INCHES FORWARD
In an initial response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, the U.S. Senate on Thursday night adopted a spate of legislative measures dubbed "The Combating Terrorism Act of 2001."
Most of the hurriedly assembled legislation, which was offered as an amendment to the Commerce, Justice and State Appropriations bill, consists of new reporting requirements and sense-of-Congress declarations that are unlikely to do much to combat terrorism.
In a slightly more substantive move that appears to be based on a misunderstanding, the legislation also instructs the CIA to rescind its 1995 guidelines governing the recruitment of informants who have committed human rights violations.
This was a response to the assertion made by some conservative critics and editorial writers that the guidelines had crippled CIA's human intelligence efforts by imposing bureaucratic obstacles to the recruitment of spies.
But that premise has been vigorously disputed by the CIA itself.
"The notion that our human rights guidelines are an impediment to fighting terrorism is simply wrong," said CIA spokesman Bill Harlow in a June 4, 2000 statement. "No one knows better than we do that when combating terrorism it is often necessary to deal with unsavory individuals. But we do so with eyes wide open and appropriate notification to senior officials."
Accordingly to Harlow, the CIA has "never, ever turned down a request to use someone, even someone with a record of human rights abuses, if we thought that person could be valuable in our overall counterterrorism program."
With a minimum of debate, the Senate also moved to expand the scope of criminal wiretapping authority.
Senators Leahy and Levin complained that the full implications and costs of the various measures were unclear and warranted full hearings. But the legislation was nevertheless adopted on voice vote, with a suggestion that it could later be modified in a House-Senate conference.
The September 13 Senate floor debate on these anti-terrorism measures may be found here:
DECLASSIFICATION INCHES FORWARD
Two years ago, Congress enacted an arduous procedure for the re-review of previously declassified documents at the National Archives to ensure that classified nuclear weapons data was not inadvertently released in the process of declassification. The Department of Energy (DOE) is slowly implementing that supplementary review procedure.
Of the 220 million pages of documents that had been both declassified and made available to the public between 1995 and 1998, DOE reviewers have now cleared 190 million pages, according to Kenneth M. Stein of DOE. The remaining 30 million pages have been withdrawn from public access. They are being processed at a rate of 500,000 pages per month, a task that will not be completed for five years.
An additional 200 million pages had been declassified but not publicly released at the time Congress enacted its new review requirement. Of these, only 10 million pages have been cleared under the new review procedures. 190 million pages await review.
The withdrawal or withholding of declassified records has significantly disrupted the activities of researchers who actually make use of such records. In an effort to mitigate this problem, DOE and the National Archives have established a Review-on-Demand procedure by which researchers can identify records of particular interest for review earlier than might otherwise be the case. Up to 50,000 pages per month can be accommodated under this procedure, Mr. Stein said at a meeting with historians yesterday.
Aside from declassification issues, public access to these records is further hampered by an enormous processing backlog at the National Archives. Such processing is required to prepare the raw documents for orderly public access.
Because many Archive personnel have been diverted to implementation of the congressionally-mandated Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act over the past year and a half, the routine processing of declassified records has suffered.
"We have a huge backlog," said Michael Kurtz of the Archives. "We are far behind."
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
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