One of the most awful pieces of legislation in the history of the United States is now under consideration by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, with hearings scheduled on September 5, 2001. It is designed to criminalize government whistleblowing and 'leaks.' (It is part of the Intelligence Appropriations Bill, SH 216.)
This draconian new secrecy law comes at a time when we should be relaxing government secrecy, not finding new ways of enforcement that are drawn from the annals of dictatorship. According to Steven Aftergood, the highly respected author of Secrecy News says in his Washington Times article on the proposal, "this ill-conceived proposal could do profound damage to our political system."
The new law is dangerous because it is far too broad. It says that the disclosure of any information that the President calls "classified" is a felony. As things now stand, there is no legal definition of what the word "classification" should mean. Under provisions of the National Security Act of 1947 and other acts, the President is free to classify essentially whatever he pleases.
The danger of this legislation is that it gives the White House the power to both define a crime and prosecute it, without ever having to address the hallowed traditions of due process that are founded in the Constitution. It is, in other words, nothing more or less than an extra-constitutional fiat.
Aftergood goes on to say that it represents "an ominous consolidation of power that threatens the foundations of our political culture." He could not be more right.
It is shocking to see that the Senate Select Committe on Intelligence is even taking the matter seriously. What they ought to be doing instead is finding ways to disentangle our government from the cancer of secrecy that has afflicted it since 1947, when the original National Security Act was passed.
We do not need nearly the level of secrecy that we now have. It is an incredibly costly process, made the more so because of all the mistakes, boondoggles and waste that are hidden behind it. Just one small example is Project Aurora, an advanced aircraft that appeared in the US Budget in the mid seventies, disappeared into the black budget in the eighties, and now, according to the Air Force, never existed at all.
How much money was squandered on that one Or was it squandered Maybe the plane succeeded. Because of classification, we may never know. In any case, whoever should be held publicly accountable for its failure, if such occurred, remains safe and secure behind the wall of secrecy.
Secrecy in America has always been at best an unfortunate necessity. This bill will turn it into a national tragedy.
What can you do The first thing is to write a letter, fax or e- mail of protest to members to the Senate Intelligence Commitee. Here are live links to all of their websites:
THE US SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE:
DEMOCRATS: Bob Graham. Chairman.
REPLUBLICANS: Richard Shelby. Ranking Member.
NOTE: This Insight, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.