December 08, 2004

Intelligence Reform Bill Gives Congress Ability to Appeal Classification Decisions

Wyden provision provides sweeping reform of classification process;additional Wyden amendments address privacy and civil liberties,airline consumer protection and safety

WASHINGTON, D.C. Intelligence reform legislation passed by the U.S. Senate today will for the first time give Congress an independent, standing body to which it can appeal national security classification decisions, said U.S Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). This provision in the National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 was authored by Wyden and U.S. Senator Trent Lott (R-Miss.), and gives Congress the authority to appeal classification decisions to the Public Interest Declassification Board. The Board will be made up of nine members with expertise in national security and related areas; five are appointed by the President and four by the bipartisan leadership of the Senate and House. They will be required to provide timely responses to congressional requests.Over-classification of documents is now the rule rather than the exception, said Wyden, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. This provision will clear the fog of unnecessary secrecy that has clouded our national intelligence picture for too long.Wydens full Congressional Record statement on declassification and intelligence reform can be found at year alone, the federal government spent $6.5 billion creating 14.3 million new classified documents. Just this past summer, Wyden, Lott and others on the Intelligence Committee aggressively sought to prevent over-classification of the Committees report on prewar intelligence on Iraq. Originally, the CIA wanted to classify more than half of the report, but strong objections by Wyden and his colleagues helped reduce classifications to 20 percent.In addition to the classification measure, a provision ensuring the continued senior level status of the Department of Homeland Securitys (DHS) Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Officer and the Privacy Officer was included in the intelligence reform bill. This provision was based on legislation introduced earlier this year by Wyden and U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine). The provision clearly defines the roles and duties of these officers and ensures coordination between these officers and the Inspector General at DHS.In addition, the Collins-Wyden measure creates a new position within the office of the Inspector General whose responsibility will be to oversee civil rights and civil liberties cases that are referred to this office. The provision also amends DHSs mission statement to include the protection of civil liberties and civil rights as a priority for the Department and its activities.Wyden was also successful in including two key airline consumer protection and safety measures in the intelligence reform bill:" Consumers holding tickets on airlines that suspend service due to bankruptcy will continue to be able to trade in those tickets for flights on other airlines. This amendment will provide a one-year extension of a consumer protection provision first enacted in the fall of 2001 and which expired November 19. Under the amendment, airline passengers holding a ticket on an airline that ceases operations due to financial insolvency will be able to use their tickets on another airline offering flights on the same routes on a space-available basis. The Department of Transportation has ruled that under this trade-in policy, the second airline may charge no more than a $50 administration fee to process the roundtrip ticket change." Butane lighters will be banned from the passenger cabins of commercial aircraft under an amendment offered by Wyden and U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-S.D.). Specifically, the provision will direct the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to ban the lighters from passenger flights. Wyden has pushed to have the lighters banned for more than a year. In October 2003, he wrote Admiral James Loy, then head of the TSA, to urge a review and reversal of the policy that allowed the lighters in the cabins of passenger aircraft. However, since that time, the TSA has refused to ban the items from being carried, and todays legislation closes this major security gap.Ensuring the safety of our skies and the health of a major sector of our economy are both important priorities and a key part of strengthening our nations security, said Wyden.The House of Representatives passed the National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 yesterday, and the Senate passed an identical version of the bill late today. The bill now goes to the White House for signature into law.