July 27, 2007

9/11 Legislation Advances Transparency

Bill includes Wyden Intelligence provisions promoting openness and accountability

Washington, D.C. - Responding to years of record secrecy and abuse of the government classification system, the U.S. Senate last night passed legislation which included provisions to improve the declassification process and to direct the release of the CIA Inspector General's report on 9/11 accountability and the total size of the national intelligence budget. The provisions, which were championed by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), a senior member of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, were included in the 9/11 conference report which passed the full Senate last night.

"I believe that it is possible to fight terrorism ferociously without sacrificing American values of openness and accountability," said Wyden. "These provisions will increase public accountability, they will increase fiscal responsibility, and by permitting a more informed debate about national security, they will make America safer."

Wyden originally introduced language declassifying the size of the U.S intelligence budget as an amendment to the 2007 Intelligence Authorization bill, which was blocked in the Senate earlier this year. In May, the White House threatened to veto the 9/11 legislation if it included language making this top line number public. Wyden dismissed the administration's threat.

"It is absurd to believe that releasing the total intelligence budget number to the public will cause any harm to national security. Osama bin Laden is not sitting in a cave, wondering what percentage of national security spending is devoted to intelligence," said Wyden. "Public accountability should not take a back seat to this Administration's obsession with secrecy."

Also included in the bill was Wyden's provision requiring the director of the CIA to declassify the summary of the CIA Inspector General's report examining the Agency's actions in the run up to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The CIA report is the only major government report on 9/11 that has not been made available to the public.

"This report sheds real insight into one of the defining moments in our nation's history and the public has the right to read it," said Wyden.

Wyden also supported the bill's language strengthening the authority of the Public Interest Declassification Board. In 2004 Wyden and a bipartisan group of colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee worked to expand the mandate of the board to make it possible for members of Congress to seek an independent review of classification decisions. Last year, Wyden and his colleagues asked the board to review two of the Committees reports on pre-war intelligence regarding Iraq. Board members said that they did not have authority to begin a review without White House approval.

"This provision will make it clear that the Public Interest Declassification Board has the power to make recommendations independent of White House direction," said Wyden. "This will provide a valuable independent check on classification decisions and prevent abuse of government secrecy rules. Too often this administration has made classification decisions based on political security not national security."