Thank you, Ed, for that kind introduction.
It is a pleasure to be here this morning to discuss the topic of
classification and declassification. Driving out here, I now see how
the NRO was kept classified for so long -- no one can find this place.
As Ed noted, I did recently switch jobs. You should know that there is
nothing like a job switch to give one a personal appreciation for a
uniform background investigation standard.
I did not want to miss this chance to talk to you about the
Clinton Administration's commitment -- and my own personal commitment --
to openness in government.
The task in which you are engaged is at the core of what George
Washington called America's "great experiment." Our nation was founded
on a principle that was revolutionary then, and too often seems
revolutionary today: that government depends for its legitimacy on the
trust of the governed; that all citizens have the right to a say in the
decisions made in their name; that, as Supreme Court Justice Louis
Brandeis memorably said, "Sunlight is the best of disinfectants."
The concept of checks and balances was not limited to the design of
the legislature; it was integral to the very design of our
constitutional system. And when trust declines, the work of government
can grind to a halt.
As Ed mentioned, I served on the Commission on Protecting and
Reducing Government Secrecy, ably led by our Chairman, Senator Moynihan.
Many people thought that the Commission's name -- Protecting and
Reducing Government Secrecy was an oxymoron.
But the truth is that there are secrets worth protecting: to
protect national security, to engage in effective diplomacy, to fight
terrorism and to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
But as the commission noted the best way to ensure that secrecy is
respected, that the most important secrets remain secret is for secrecy
to be returned to a limited but necessary role...to reduce secrecy
Those same principles underlie the Clinton Administrations
commitment to the effective protection of secrets critical to our
national security, while promoting openness in government. Three
overlapping tenets underlie our policy. First, in a free society, the
public must have access to information about the workings of
government. Second, in the information age, government must use
technology to promote openness -- but it must use it wisely, to prevent
unauthorized access. Third, in an era of shrinking budgets, the
management of government information must be more cost-effective.
Let me elaborate briefly on each of these points. First, the
purpose of openness in a free society. Our founders knew that
democracy cannot function in the absence of public information. But
there are very practical reasons for greater openness in government, as
well -- and great incentives for government to want to make that
Greater openness permits more public understanding of government's
actions -- and makes it more possible for the government to respond to
criticism and justify those actions. Greater openness makes the free
exchange of scientific information possible, which in turn encourages
discoveries that foster economic growth. And greater openness,
especially regarding the government's past actions, can help resolve
long-standing controversies -- and may provide a guide for the future.
Of course, as I noted, some information is not appropriate to
disclose, especially regarding matters of national security. The
government has an unquestionable responsibility to assiduously protect
such information, particularly when it comes to intelligence sources
and methods -- and there can be no tolerance for its unauthorized
The second tenet underlying the Clinton Administration's policy of
openness is the use of new technologies to increase the free flow of
information. In 1996, we worked with Congress, and in particular with
Senator Leahy, to enact the Electronic Freedom of Information Act.
Since President Clinton signed the bill into law, literally millions of
pages of public information with widespread public interest have been
made readily available on the Internet.
This success is due in no small part to Vice President Gore's
efforts to reinvent government so that it "works better and costs
less." As a result, today, every Federal agency has a public web site
where citizens can learn about policies and programs that affect their
But we should not forget the same information revolution also
creates new challenges for the management of information, particularly
in limiting access to it. The new technology promotes access, and
today computer security too often is an afterthought, a feature to be
added in next release of software that has been rushed to market.
And I would only note in passing that beyond what have become the
difficult but somewhat routine questions of controlling access to
classified and sensitive but unclassified computer systems, government
is just beginning to grapple with the national security challenges
posed by access to open source information on the net. Can you imagine
the allied armies planning the D-Day deception if every unit had its
own web site. That can be the subject of next year's conference.
The third tenet I mentioned is that government management of
information must be cost-effective. The E-FOIA statute I discussed
earlier recognizes that it's cheaper to disseminate information that
you know the public is likely to be interested in, than to wait for the
public to request that information under FOIA.
FOIA is the least efficient way to make government information
public, not only from a Federal budget standpoint, but also in terms of
its cost to the public and the delay in getting information out. Our
information management systems must be built to maximize the
appropriate and timely dissemination of information to the public, so
that we don't have to go back and release it on a costly, piecemeal,
after the fact basis.
The President's policy on classification and declassification,
embodied in Executive Order 12958, is built on these same tenets. As
that Order notes, a sea change in international relations, signaled by
the fall of the Berlin wall, adds an additional consideration to the
mix and provides an opportunity to emphasize our commitment to greater
openness in government.
You all are familiar with the Executive order, and most of you
work under it and derivative agency guidance in your daily activities.
Yesterday morning you heard the perspectives of two experts, Tim Wiener
of the New York Times and Roz Mazer of the ISCAP, on the progress and
pitfalls we have experienced under this Order. I want to briefly add
my perspective, and then suggest what else needs to be done.
Under President Clinton's leadership, we have made quite a bit of
progress. Since issuance of EO 12958, agencies have embarked on an
unprecedented effort to meet the Order's declassification requirements.
In fiscal years 1996 and 1997, agencies declassified more than 400
million pages of historically valuable documents -- 50 percent more in
the last two years than in the previous 16 years. The Information
Security Oversight Office (ISOO) estimates that these 400 million pages
constitute about a quarter of the total universe of classified pages
subject to automatic declassification by April 2000. In other words,
we are off to a good start. And I thank you for that.
Let me give you another example. In 1992, Congress established the
Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board. In the aftermath of the
assassination of President Kennedy, suspicions that the government had
withheld information had eroded confidence in the truthfulness of
Federal agencies in general and damaged their credibility. The Board
was created to dispel this perception, and it has done a remarkable
job. Its accomplishments include reviewing and voting on over 27,000
previously redacted assassination records, and obtaining agencies'
consent to release an additional 33,000-plus assassination records.
These records included previously redacted records from the CIA's
Directorate of Operations, and FBI documents describing the FBI's
attempts to track Lee Harvey Oswald's activities in Europe prior to
None of this progress would have occurred without the excellent
cooperation of these agencies. I think history will show that, for this
unique set of records -- given the importance of their full release in
terms of public confidence in government -- the process and expense were
well-justified. The process permitted a few of the declassification
recommendations to go to the highest levels, including the President.
The Board is an example of how clear direction and accountability can
I'm proud of other examples of promoting openness while managing
risk to our national security. President Clinton's 1994 executive
order that declassified in bulk approximately 45 million pages of World
War Two and Vietnam war vintage documents -- nearly 15% of the National
Archives' holdings of classified material.
In early 1995 the President ordered, for the first time, the
declassification of overhead imagery from the Corona, Argon, and
Lanyard missions -- historic documents which will be of great value to
historians, as well as the natural resource and environmental
In 1996, NSA released extensive information about the Venona
project. This single act ended a 50-year silence regarding one of
cryptography's most successful efforts, and provided valuable insight
into Soviet attempts to infiltrate the U.S. government. That same
year, NSA initiated "Project Open Door," releasing over one million
pages of historic crypto logic documents that provide insight into some
of the century's most compelling stories.
When it comes to the declassification of information regarding
nuclear age human experiments, once again, the Clinton Administration
has led. The Energy Department's "Openness Initiative" incorporated
both public meetings and extensive use of the Internet to answer many
questions about the declassification and release of sensitive nuclear
information and human experimentation activities. Less than one year
after the President issued EO 12958, the Department of Energy
declassified more than 1.9 million pages of formerly classified
materials. Since then, the Department has declassified or confirmed
unclassified more than 11 million pages. For the third year in a row,
the Department of Energy is declassifying more documents than it is
Our progress is not limited to the declassification of old
documents. Perhaps more significant is a trend that will affect future
declassification. Before President Clinton signed the Executive
Order, a tiny minority -- only 5% -- had a fixed declassification date.
Since President Clinton signed the Executive Order, ten times that many
are now marked for declassification in ten years or less.
In all these ways, the Clinton Administration has pursued a policy of
government openness -- but we know there is far more work to be done.
FY 1997 saw a 50 percent rise in the number of classification
decisions, although this was in substantial part due to a large
increase in the number of military operations and exercises conducted
during FY 1997. Implementation of the National Industrial Security
Program, which many of you here care about, has been quite uneven and
slower than hoped.
Finally, on the legislative front, the picture is cloudy.
In the last days of the 105th Congress, a provision was attached
to the Defense Authorization bill. The Congress, in an apparently
well-meaning effort to further protect nuclear weapons information,
included an overly broad provision that will impede the
declassification of historically valuable records over 25 years old.
The provision requires the Secretary of Energy and the Archivist
of the United States to develop a plan to protect Restricted and
Formerly Restricted Data from inadvertent disclosure during the
automatic declassification of 25-year old records. In the meantime,
agencies may not declassify any 25-year old records that have not
received a page-by-page review. In his signing statement to the
Defense Authorization, the President made a commitment that the
required plan will be submitted within 90 days, and the National
Security Council is moving forward to assure that that happens. In the
meantime, for records less than 25 years old, current procedures
continue to apply. Let me be clear: for records older than 25 years,
agency automatic declassification processing, but not final
declassification, will also continue.
This information (where it consists of core technical details about
weapons of mass destruction)is exactly the kind of information that
must be protected from release. Accordingly, we will deal with this
potential problem in a realistic way to protect that information, while
assuring that it will have only a limited and temporary impact on the
Executive order's goal of speeding the declassification of older
historical records. I have discussed this matter with Secretary of
Energy Richardson, and he assures me that there is full support in the
Department for the policies and practices contained in the Executive
order, and that he will be taking such steps as are necessary to assure
such continued support throughout the Department.
More significantly on the legislative front, this year saw a
great deal of hard work aimed at creating a statutory basis for the
President's classification authority. This law, S. 712, the
Government Secrecy Reform Act, sponsored by Senator Moynihan,
essentially came out of the work of the Secrecy Commission. Congress
was unable to complete this work this year, but sometimes these things
take more than one try. Since Congress will be back in just a few
months, I think it is worthwhile to go over the basis for the
Administration's willingness to support legislation in this area,
and the reasons why, ultimately, we were unable to support the
particular bill that the legislative process produced.
Now there has been controversy about whether there can be --
within the structure created by the Constitution of the United States --
any law that would put conditions on the President's authority to
control the classification of national security information. And so,
during the legislative process, we consulted with the Justice
Department on this matter, and they and we have concluded that it is
possible under the Constitution for Congress to legislate in this area
and establish a statutory basis for national security classification.
But not everything that is possible is desirable.
So, what are the reasons why such legislation would be desirable?
I think the reasons are actually laid out pretty clearly in the 1997
report of the Secrecy Commission. There is a lot of detail in there,
but they boil down to two basic benefits: stability and openness.
On stability, as you all know better than I, since the Second
World War, in virtually every new Administration where the political
party has changed, new classification policies have been put in place.
Because the process of classification and declassification is one which
rightly contains a great number of checks and balances, making new
policies effective is a slow process.
And so, the effect has been that one administration's policy
changes have only begun to take hold when the next comes in and alters
For a system that deals with time periods of 10 and even 25 years,
such frequent change is not productive. A statute would provide a
stable foundation for the classification system, and would ultimately
result in more uniform and predictable procedures and results. An
overarching statute which recognizes the President's constitutional
responsibilities and prerogatives would also greatly mitigate the
perceived need for more specific statutes, such as the proposed Human
Rights Information Act, which, while well-intended, can actually
disrupt the overall declassification process.
With regard to openness, I think there are two ways in which a
statute would make a difference. First, the very process of developing
a law that is acceptable to all parties provides a mechanism for the
various interests at play to be balanced in a public manner. The
development of laws is, by the nature of our democracy, a public
process. And in this area, where the various agency and public
equities often conflict and the stakes are high, it is highly
appropriate that an open process be used to make policy. Second, once
a statute is in place, the Congress then has the opportunity, on behalf
of the public, to conduct oversight of the Executive's activities.
Now, it's no secret that Executive branches are not always
brimming with enthusiasm for more Congressional oversight. But in this
area, the President believes that the public interest equities require
striking a balance for openness, for an advocate beyond that which
institutionally exists in the Executive branch. Congress, acting
responsibly can serve that function.
As this year's action showed, however, not just any statute will
do. In May, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger expressed the
Administration's willingness to work with Congress to reach agreement
on a statute that would establish a statutory basis for the President
At that time, we made it clear that any legislation must not
impinge on the President's authority and flexibility to manage the
classification system, within a broad statutory framework. As the bill
evolved over the summer, a number of our concerns were addressed by the
Congress, but we were unable to resolve one intractable issue. That
issue was a dual statutory requirement: first, that classifiers balance
the potential benefits from public release of the information with the
potential damage to national security from that release, and second,
that those decisions would be subject to review by the courts.
In that the Administration strongly believe that commitment to
openness with administrative accountability is better than an
unpredictable litigation model in this sensitive national security
Time ran out before we could resolve this dispute, but our
interest in a statute remains, and I expect this issue to return in the
next Congress, where we hope to work this out. From a policy
perspective, a balancing test makes sense. In fact, we have a version
of such a test in the current Executive order. Where we were unable
to reach agreement with Congress was on the accountability for the
application of such a test. Going to court is only one way of
achieving accountability, and it is generally a time-consuming and
expensive method, the costs of which, we believe, outweigh its benefits.
The statute would also have created an independent National
Classification and Declassification Center to assist the President in
managing the classification system. A strong and independent Center
could make a real difference throughout the whole information life
cycle, from creation to disposition. Working with agencies to develop
and maintain agency classification guides would improve the front end.
The statute would also create a Classification and Declassification
Review Board, which presumably would have performed most if not all the
functions currently being performed by the ISCAP. The ISCAP, as you
heard yesterday, has really been quite successful. Without going into
the details of its accomplishments, I would say that classifiers can
learn from its decisions so the issues do not have to be reviewed over
and over. I applaud the ISCAP's initiative to create an outreach and
education program to disseminate its decisions to agency classifiers.
As we enter the legislative process next year, I can imagine that
such a administrative review board could become a first stop in
classification and declassification disputes, before going to the
As we approach this issue with the new Congress, we look forward
to your input and suggestions.
Finally, let me conclude by saying that the Administration will
continue to balance the vital interests of national security with the
genuine claims of public openness. But doing so requires real choices.
It requires us to make distinctions between those things that are
unambiguously important to protect, and those where the public interest
in disclosure outweighs the harm that could come from release.
This type of balance is more difficult than a policy of unthinking
secrecy. In pursuing this approach, we seek to protect national
security but also to be true to our most fundamental values as a
nation. For over two centuries, we have prospered and won because --
at our best -- we have found ways to do both. As James Madison wrote
in 1822, "A popular government without popular information, or means
of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or tragedy, or perhaps
both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean
to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which
knowledge gives." I pledge to you that -- as long as I am Chief of
Staff to the President -- I will work alongside with you to that noble