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Dec. 2000 MOYNIHAN DECLASSIFICATION BOARD APPROVED

In one of its last official acts, the 106th Congress passed legislation (H.R. 5630) that includes a provision creating a new advisory board on declassification matters. Originally introduced as the Public Interest Declassification Act (S. 1801), the bill was the last vestige of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's once ambitious effort to reform the national security classification and declassification system. The legislation which was wrapped into the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2000 (H.R. 5630) creates a Public Interest Declassification Board whose charge is to promote openness, to support Congress in its oversight of declassification, and to make recommendations to the President on classification and declassification policy, practices, and procedures.

Enactment of the Moynihan bill looked dubious in early December because the Intelligence Authorization Act also contained a highly controversial provision that many in the Senate objected to. The objectionable provision would have made it a crime for government employees to disclose classified information to the public. Without benefit of any congressional hearings, the so-called Leak Statute-Section 304, "Prohibition of Unauthorized Disclosure of Classified Information" was vetoed on November 4 by the President. According to numerous historians and journalists who studied this legislation, the proposed law would have been equivalent to an "Official Secrets Act." It would have severely restricted free speech, undercut the already tenuous rights of federal government whistle-blowers who put their jobs on the line when they disclose wrongdoing, and would have shielded "corruption and government abuse of power behind a wall of secrecy."

In an effort to get another version of the appropriation bill passed, on November 13, the House of Representatives removed the controversial statute that the President vetoed and passed a revised bill. Shortly thereafter, various members of the intelligence community approached Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and suggested a substitute leak measure. Shelby threaten to strike the Moynihan declassification board provision when the Senate took up the bill if the retiring New York Senator and his colleagues did not agree to the new leak language. The consensus of many historians and many openness in government advocates was that the leak-language in the redrafted Senate bill was still objectionable, and that it would be better to see the Moynihan provision not enacted this session than to see an objectionable leak provision pass Congress.

Fortunately, on December 6, by unanimous consent, the Senate passed a version of the Intelligence Authorization Act that included the Moynihan declassification board provision but not the leak statute. On December 11, the House agreed to the Senate version of the authorization bill. On December 15, the measure was presented to President Clinton for his action. He is expected to sign the bill.

NCC WASHINGTON UPDATE, Vol. 6, #45, December 21, 2000

by Bruce Craig rbcraig3@juno.com of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History

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