Releasing Classified Government Documents p. 14

By: Debra Gersh Hernandez Congressman, senator introduce separate bills aimed at reducing
amount of time sensitive government information remains secret sp.

TWO BILLS DESIGNED to revamp the system for classifying and declassifying government documents have been introduced.
Sponsored by Sen. Dennis De-Concini (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Dan Glickman (D-Kan.), the legislation would codify standards for classification and declassification, with a presumption for release.
"Around 7 million documents are classified each year, about one each second for a 40-hour work week," De-Concini explained.
"I, for one, have a hard time believing that it is vital to national security to keep this much information from the American public.
"Additionally, there are countless documents that remain classified despite the fact that they no longer pose any national security threat. This is simply nonsensical, and it must change," the senator said.
Glickman said, "For nearly half a century, U.S. presidents, relying on their interpretation of the powers inherent in their office, have exercised nearly complete authority over the fashioning of the standards and policies by which information is classified.
"Restricting access to information is too important an issue to be left solely to decisions made in the executive branch," he said. "I believe there should be a clear basis in law for determining when the veil of secrecy should descend on information and, just as importantly, when that veil should be lifted."
President Clinton indicated months ago that he would issue a new executive order for more openness in this area, but such a document has yet to be released.
The bills are nearly identical. Both call for reducing the number of basic classification categories from three to two, and they require that clear and standard tests be met before documents are classified.
They differ in the length of time each type of document should remain classified.
In DeConcini's bill, the Security Classification Act of 1994, secret information would be declassified after 10 years and top secret after 15 years. Glickman's bill, the Information Classification Act of 1994, calls for limits of six and 10 years.
Both bills provide for extensions and review as well as exemptions for highly sensitive material.
Glickman said he was "not wedded" to the six- and 10-year provisions and didn't see the time difference in the two bills as a major problem. They work out about the same anyway because his bill has shorter periods with more extensions and DeConcini's has longer periods with fewer extensions.
During a hearing the day after the bills were introduced, the Senate
Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by DeConcini, heard the results of a study by the Joint Security Commission that called for overhaul of the entire security system, including classification of documents.
The commission, chartered in May by the heads of the Department of Defense and the CIA, found, among other things, that "a new classification of information system is needed."
Jeffrey Smith, chairman of the commission, reported that the study found a need for only "two levels of classification: Secret and Secret Compartmented Access. This is a radical simplification from the current system, which has upwards of 12 different classification categories.
"We recommend a radically new classification system that would greatly simplify the current system with its three primary levels: confidential, secret and top secret, but with a potential of nine different control systems," Smith testified.
"Under our proposed system, classified information would be given only two degrees of protection. Generally protected information would be labeled 'Secret' and would be subject to ordinary need-to-know controls," he explained.
"Material labeled 'Secret Compartmented Access' would be information or materials requiring a higher level of protection and to which stricter need-to-know rules would apply," he said.
Smith said the commission also strongly recommends creation of a Security Executive Committee, to be a subcommittee of the National Security Council, that would develop and coordinate security policy for the entire government.
The committee would be chaired by the deputy secretary of defense and the director of central intelligence "because they are responsible for roughly 85% of the classified information in the government," Smith said.
Further, the Security Executive Committee "should be advised by a Security Advisory Board of prominent private citizens appointed by the president who will ensure that the system is fair and balanced," he suggested. "They could also serve as an appellate board for complaints from the public, including on such issues as whether information is properly classified."
Smith noted that the central question in implementation of any new classification policy is whether Congress should legislate the changes or they should be left to an executive order from the president.
Smith said his inclination, while closely split, would be to give the president a chance to draft a new order, and because one apparently is in the works, take a look at it before proceeding with legislation.
DeConcini pointed out, however, that "this is a problem the executive created" and said he does not believe the issue is paramount at the White House or the agencies involved.
Other areas addressed in the Joint Security Commission's 158-page report include threat assessments, personnel security, physical and procedural security, protecting advanced technology and information systems, streamlining security costs and security training, and education.
?(Reuter/Bettmann photo) [Caption]
?(Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) (left), one of two members of Congress who introduced bills on declassification of secret government information, shakes hands with President Clinton, who indicated months ago that he would issue an executive order supporting more openness in the area of classified information. Clinton has yet to produce such a document.) [Photo & Caption]


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