from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
September 25, 2001
AIRING THE CIVIL LIBERTIES DEBATE
- AIRING THE CIVIL LIBERTIES DEBATE
- EVIDENCE AGAINST BIN LADEN REMAINS SECRET
Despite a widespread sense of urgency and some impatience with the usual niceties of political debate, a serious discussion of national security and civil liberties in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks is underway in Washington.
To its credit, the Senate Intelligence Committee held an open hearing September 24 on proposals for legislative changes to intelligence and counterterrorism policy. Several provisions of these proposals would expand the government's ability to conduct surveillance on Americans, or otherwise raise civil liberties issues.
Unlike the more widely publicized Judiciary Committee hearings, the Intelligence Committee invited witnesses from non-governmental organizations, including the Center for National Security Studies and the Center for Democracy and Technology.
Most of the witnesses disagreed with several aspects of the pending legislation. In a number of respects, they also disagreed with each other. The resulting record is highly informative. It is too early to say whether or how it will shape the Senate's actions, but it already permits a more informed public assessment of these complex issues.
The prepared testimony from the September 24 Senate Intelligence Committee hearing is posted here:
A September 21 statement by Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham introducing his proposed bill (S.1448) "to enhance intelligence in the prevention of terrorism" may be found here:
EVIDENCE AGAINST BIN LADEN REMAINS SECRET
The principal evidence linking Usama Bin Laden to the September 11 terrorist attacks will remain classified, despite some recent equivocation suggesting that release of a report on the subject was imminent.
Although Bin Laden has been named by Secretary of State Powell as the "prime suspect," the precise nature of what he is suspected of has not been clearly spelled out. Did he plan the September 11 attacks? Finance them? Incite them?
Clearly, he did incite such attacks. In a 1998 declaration of "Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders" he called upon his followers to "kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- in any country in which it is possible to do it." See:
But yesterday officials defended their decision not to release more specific information, citing the sensitivity of intelligence sources.
"In a democracy it's always important to provide the maximum amount information possible," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer at a September 24 press briefing. "But I think the American people also understand that there are going to be times when that information cannot immediately be forthcoming." See:
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said release of further "evidence" was not immediately planned.
"As we find information that is unclassified, we'll try to make it available," he said. "There's no particular fixed date or target at this point for doing that in a big show or anything." See:
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
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