Escalating Secrecy Wars

"Any sources and methods of intelligence will remain guarded in secret. My administration will not talk about how we gather intelligence, if we gather intelligence, and what the intelligence says. That's for the protection of the American people."
-- President George W. Bush, New York Times, Sept. 14, 2001

"The seriousness of the [unauthorized disclosures] issue has outpaced the capacity of extant administrative and law enforcement mechanisms to address the problem effectively."
-- Attorney General John Ashcroft, Letter to the Speaker of the House, Oct. 15, 2002

For an administration obsessed with secrecy, the recent musings of Dr. James B. Bruce might be just what the doctor ordered. In the current edition of Studies in Intelligence, Dr. Bruce recommends "stiff new penalties to crack down on leaks, including prosecutions of journalists that publish classified information," according to the May 22 edition of Secrecy News.

Last summer, Dr. Bruce, a veteran CIA employee, told the Institute of World Politics that "We've got to do whatever it takes -- if it takes sending SWAT teams into journalists' homes -- to stop these leaks." According to, a right wing online publication, Bruce declared that "Somehow there has evolved a presumptive right of the press to leak classified information. I hope we get a test case soon that will pit the government's need to prosecute those who leak its classified documents against the guarantees of free speech. I'm betting the government will win."

In his latest attack on leakers, titled "The Consequences of Permissive Neglect: Laws and Leaks of Classified Intelligence" (Studies in Intelligence: Journal of the American Intelligence Professional -- Volume 47, No. 1, 2003), Dr. Bruce maintains that intelligence gathering efforts and secrecy "is under assault," from the U.S. press which acts as an "open vault of classified information on U.S. intelligence collection sources and methods." The problem is being exacerbated by "the scope and seriousness of leaks coupled with the power of electronic dissemination [of information] and search engines."

U.S. newspapers, magazines, television, books, and the Internet are not only revealing information about "how secret intelligence works," but they are also divulging "how to defeat it," according to Dr. Bruce. To prevent "unauthorized disclosure" there must be "a frontal assault on many levels" including "a range of legal solutions that have not been tried before, some of which are controversial." Establishing these remedies will not be easy because "freedom-of-the-press advocates" and professional journalists "exert disproportionate influence on this debate."

Dr. Bruce also rails against the "myths" that "leaks do not do much harm" and "that the government over-classifies everything -- including intelligence -- and classifies way too much." He claims: "The National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) has experienced roughly a hundred leaks just since 2000 that have damaged U.S. imagery collection effectiveness. Many dozens of leaks on the activities and programs of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) have also helped foreign adversaries develop countermeasures to spaceborne collection operations. DIA and the military services, too, have suffered collection losses as a result of media leaks."

"There are laws that already criminalize the disclosure of certain specific categories of information to an unauthorized person," Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists and editor of Secrecy News, told me in a telephone interview. "These categories include revealing the names of intelligence agents that are under cover; classified cryptographic material -- information pertaining to U.S. government codes or communications intelligence; information relating to nuclear weapons design and a few other areas." Disclosure of anything in these areas is prohibited and is punishable by law. The specific media outlet as well as an individual reporter is subject to prosecution.

"Leaks of classified information outside of these categories," said Aftergood, "are treated differently. In these cases, the person who leaks the information is subject to penalties while the person who receives the information isn't. What Dr. Bruce is proposing is that the person who receives the information be liable for possessing or publishing any classified information."

A short bio published at the Web site of Georgetown University indicates that Dr. Bruce is a member of the University's Security Studies Program and who teaches a course titled "Intelligence and U.S. National Security Policy." At Central Intelligence headquarters, Dr. Bruce serves as Vice Chairman of the DCI (Director of Central Intelligence) Foreign Denial and Deception Committee in the National Intelligence Council (NIC). In this capacity the bio states, "He is responsible for Intelligence Community work on foreign denial and deception issues." As decoded by Dr. Bruce, this means he works "to understand how foreign adversaries learn about, then try to defeat, our secret intelligence collection activities."

Dr. Bruce's twenty years of service at the CIA includes stints as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Science and Technology in the National Intelligence Council; Branch Chief in the Office of European Analysis; Chief of Counterintelligence Training in the DCI Counterintelligence Center; and as senior analyst in both CIA Directorates of Intelligence and Operations. Is Dr. Bruce a stalking horse for the administration? A loose cannon firing his own broadside? "Some people have suggested that the [Bruce] piece is meant to be a trial balloon, but I don't find that persuasive," Aftergood said. "I don't think trial balloons are floated in Studies in Intelligence.

"At this time, Dr. Bruce's position seems further to the right than even the position of Attorney General Ashcroft," Aftergood said. "The administration has other proposals in the hopper, but none of them involve penalties for the media; because of the First Amendment, and because the media might revolt. After all, it was the media that led the opposition to a measure to criminalize all leaks, legislation that was eventually vetoed by President Clinton.

"There is, however, a continuing tug of war around these issues," said Aftergood. "Clearly the Bush Administration is the most secretive administration in decades or longer. What remains open is the response from other branches of government," Aftergood said. "The outcome [of the fight over classified documents] is going to depend on who is willing to stand up and fight. The usual suspects, as important as they are, are not enough to change the equation. The more people in Congress stand up to rebuke the administration [on secrecy questions] the better off we'll all be."

An example of the administration's not so secret obsession with secrecy was evident in late March when President Bush issued an order delaying by three years the release of millions of government documents. The order also gave the government "new powers... to keep information classified indefinitely if it falls within a broad definition of national security," the Washington Post reported.

Exempt from automatic declassification in the future is "information that would assist in the development or use of weapons of mass destruction"; information that would harm "national security emergency preparedness plans or reveal current vulnerabilities"; information "that would impair the application of state of the art technology within a U.S. weapon system"; and information that would "impair relations between the United States and a foreign government."

President Bush called the order an attempt to balance national security and open government: "Our nation's progress depends on the free flow of information. Nevertheless, throughout our history, the national defense has required that certain information be maintained in confidence in order to protect our citizens, our democratic institutions, our homeland security, and our interactions with foreign nations."

Is there a possibility that Dr. Bruce's concerns will be addressed by Congress? In May, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) issued its "Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2004 for Intelligence and Intelligence-Related Activities" report. In a section called "Security and Counterintelligence: Protecting against unauthorized disclosures of classified information," SSCI said that it wanted "to encourage the Executive Branch to adopt a new and more aggressive approach to leak issues. The Committee recommends that the U.S. Government consider the workability of aggressive criminal and civil enforcement, even civil compensatory remedies (e.g., liquidated damages)."

For the final word on the classification question, here is what the Washington, DC-based National Security Archive (NSA), an organization that has battled for access to classified documents since its founding in 1985, had to say in a May 23rd NSA press release, announcing the publication of its new collection of declassified documents. Titled "CIA Stamped Secret on Santa Claus, Blacked Out Joke on North Pole Terrorism," the press release charges that the CIA "classified and withheld from a Freedom of Information Act release a 25-year-old joke item in a weekly terrorism report about the terrorist threat to Santa Claus and the North Pole."

On a more serious note, NSA's compilation "illustrate[s] the arbitrary and capricious decision making that all too often characterizes the U.S. government's national security secrecy system." Other items include "intelligence budgets that are still classified from 1947 (!) and the locations of nuclear weapons such as the Jupiter missiles in Italy that were only deployed for a few years... [as well as] cover-ups, such as death squad activities in El Salvador that would have undermined Congressional approval for military aid."

Then there's this curious sidebar: The Memory Hole's Russ Kick pointed out that less than one week after publishing the article containing Bruce's SWAT Team reference, removed it from its Web site. Why? "NewsMax offered no explanation, but [Secrecy News' Steven] Aftergood reported that 'one source said that Mr. Bruce's remarks... had been made "off the record" and were never intended to be quoted or publicized.'" Bruce's current piece appears in the annual "unclassified" edition of Studies in Intelligence.

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