September 29, 2004

Intelligence Reform Bill to Include Key Wyden Measure on Classification

Bipartisan amendment gives Independent National Security Classification Board power to reexamine classification decisions

Washington, DC - An amendment by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to name an Independent National Security Classification Board to reexamine classification decisions at the request of Congress was included today in the National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004. The bipartisan amendment, offered with Senators Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Bob Graham (D-Fla.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.), would also give Congress a role in the development of the National Intelligence Director's new classification guidelines and standards. The amendment echoes bipartisan legislation introduced in July by Wyden and others to revamp the way intelligence information becomes classified and to create a congressional appeals process. "It's time to throw open the curtains and let the sun shine in on the governmental process much brighter than it does today," said Wyden. "This amendment strikes a balance between protecting legitimate national security interests and ensuring the people's right to information about their safety and security." Under the amendment, the existing, non-partisan, independent Public Interest Declassification Board is renamed the Independent National Security Classification Board. This amendment gives Congress for the first time an independent, standing body to which it can appeal a national security classification decision. Governor Thomas H. Kean, who chaired the 9/11 Commission, has been quoted saying that three quarters of the classified material he had read should not have been classified. His panel's report, presented largely without redactions, was an exception to a long-standing practice of overclassifying national security information. "The ability to stamp a document ‘secret' is one of the most powerful tools in government," said Wyden. "It was a power wielded by bureaucrats in 18 Federal agencies last year to classify more than 14 million new documents. It is a power that now costs American taxpayers about $6.5 billion a year. It is a power that is out of control. The system used to classify information for national security purposes is broken and this important amendment will fix this problem." Wyden worked with Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), the Chairman and Ranking Democratic Member of the Senate Government Affairs Committee, to pass this amendment and include it in the overall intelligence reform bill. Wyden has long sought to increase openness in the Federal government. In 2000, Wyden and the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) released a joint report on government secrecy. The report, Secrecy in International and Domestic Policy Making: The Case for More Sunshine," examined the sweeping impact government secrecy has on a wide array of issues important to the American people. The Moynihan-Wyden report showed that on vital matters from trade to determining interest rates to the environment, organizations as diverse as the World Trade Organization and the Federal Reserve Board regularly conduct important business behind closed doors. The report also made a series of policy recommendations in order to promote more clarity and openness in government deliberations and actions. The National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 must be approved by the full Senate and reconciled with intelligence reform legislation in the House of Representatives before becoming law.