By: Debra Gersh Hernandez
Congressman plans to introduce a bill that would set
standards for classifying national security documents sp.
LEGISLATION IS BEING drafted that would overhaul the country’s system of classifying national security documents.
Building on efforts begun in the last Congress, Rep. Dan Glickman (D-Kan.) plans to introduce a bill that would set statutory standards for classification of information.
“The implosion of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War has fundamentally changed the world,” Glickman said. “In national security affairs, as in other areas, this change offers an opportunity to review old ways of doing business and discard those practices and procedures that are no longer useful or necessary.”
Speaking to the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security in Washington, he pointed out another opportunity created by the end of the Cold War: “The chance to review policies promoting secrecy, which were established in the name of national security and continued, with little change, for nearly half a century.
“I believe that it is time that we make our national security establishment more open and understandable to the American people.”
Glickman also would like the House Intelligence Committee, of which he is chairman, to look at the policy for security classifications and “the secrecy which continues to surround the intelligence budget figure.”
Pointing out that with the fall of the Soviet Union, “no potential adversary now exists for whom possession of this information would make any measurable difference,” Glickman said he wants to declassify the aggregate intelligence budget figure.
“If classification of the aggregate budget figure cannot be justified on national security grounds, its only practical result is to prevent the American taxpayer from knowing how much is spent on intelligence.”
Historically, standards for classifying information have been set by executive order, not Congress. In fact, Glickman said, the Clinton administration is working on an executive order that would reduce overclassification and declassify much of “the mountain” of material currently classified.
While supporting those goals, he added that he believes “there should be a specific statutory basis for the actions of the president in this area. While presidents have relied on their implied powers, the extent of their constitutional authority on classification matters has never been settled.”
Glickman explained, “The bill will provide only the essential elements of a classification policy. The details and implementing procedures will be left to the executive branch with a requirement that they be reviewed and approved by Congress using expedited legislative procedures.”
The bill would include the following:
? A test for classification that would balance the public’s interest in knowing against possible harm to national security if the information is released, with a presumption in favor of disclosure.
? Two classification levels: One for information that could cause “exceptionally grave damage” to national security if disclosed and the other for information the release of which could cause “serious damage.”
For both, “damage would have to have been susceptible to identification or description when the original classification decision was made.”
? Stipulation of who may classify information and how that authority is achieved.
? Duration of classification, with specific ending periods.
For cases in which specific data could not be fixed, limits would be established, such as 10 years for information in the “exceptionally grave damage” category and six years for information in the “serious damage” area.
? A procedure for reviewing classification decisions and extension of classification when warranted.
“The bill’s purpose is to subject the issue of classification to the public debate which because of the Cold War and associated concerns, it has never had.
My objective is to not only stimulate that debate but, at its conclusion, to codify a classification policy which reflects that in an open society, the construction by government of a barrier to the free flow of information should be a last resort when harm to the nation is clear, not a first resort because it is easy to do and requires little justification,” Glickman said.