The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Public Interest Declassification Board - how do you think it's doing?

A piece in today's Post by Christopher Lee run on A15 under hed and dek: Declassification Board: Named but Unfunded/Panel on Government Secrecy Unable to Operate.

It's a process story, it has no tabloid values - and only the Post has touched it [1]. Let's just be grateful.

The tale, so far as I can see (ie, nowhere near far enough!), is one of bipartsan chicanery: the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy was established by PL 103-236 §903
(1) to examine the implications of the extensive classification of information and to make recommendations to reduce the volume of information classified and thereby to strengthen the protection of legitimately classified information; and

(2) to examine and make recommendations concerning current procedures relating to the granting of security clearances.

Sen Daniel Patrick Moynihan chaired the commission, which reported in 1997.

Lee says
The declassification board was the only recommendation of a two-year commission on government secrecy led in the mid-1990s by then-Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) that made it into law. Passed partly as a tribute to Moynihan before he retired, the board existed in name only.

Was the Clinton Administration ever in favour of action on the subject? The legislation creating the PIDB was PL 106-567, passed in the lame duck session of the 107th Congress in December 2000 - the relevant provisions §701ff [2]. By which time Clinton had long (in Teflon Tony's favourite phrase) moved on. Was he even interested in April 1994 when he signed PL 103-236? Normally, issues delegated to commissions are intended for oblivion.

Bush, natch, had zero interest in allowing the PLDB to function:
...the White House has not requested any funds for it, and Congress has never appropriated any. There is no way to pay for materials or panelists' stipends or to foot the bill for the security clearances members will require.

How much effort have the Congressional Democrats been making to shame the Bush administration to get the PLDB funded and working?

An FAS newsletter says
The Office of Management and Budget had recently identified funds for reprogramming to support the Board, and the National Security Council had approved the transfer, one official told Secrecy News. But then the ball was dropped, figuratively speaking, and the reprogramming never took place. Efforts by some to include funding in the recent Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act were blocked in Congress.

No more than a few tens of thousands of dollars are needed for the Board for the remainder of the current fiscal year, according to the official.

But "It is easier to get $100 million than to get $100 thousand," the official said yesterday.

So, if that can be believed, Bush was willing to throw a bone or two to get some kind of token start-up for the PLDB - but Congress nixed it!

Why doesn't government secrecy have journalists the length and breadth of the country fuming and snorting?

My suspicion: because, if information flowed freely, those high-maintenance anonymous sources and their selective leaks would be devalued to hell.

(Inertia, the weight of history, the advisory nature of the Board, unwillingness to rock the boat - all bound to play their part, too, though...)

  1. That is, only the Post article is pulled up by a Google News search on the name of the Board.

  2. The legislation was amended by PL 108-796 §1102 - comment.

    According to this, the amendment followed a free-standing bill (S 2672) introduced by Wyden and Lott!


I had the story from Rachel Maddow's show - link not on her blog, annoyingly.

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