Panel: U.S. Can't Keep a Secret

The best way for the federal government to protect national security secrets is to reduce the amount of information it classifies, a bipartisan commission reported yesterday.

The Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy, led by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., and Rep. Larry Combest, R-Texas, concluded that "secrets can be protected more effectively if secrecy is reduced overall."

The commission's study found that leaks of classified information are now "almost routine," so that the public and people within the government do not trust the present classification and personnel security systems. "Benefits can flow from moving information that no longer needs protection out of the classification system and, in appropriate cases, from not classifying at all," the report said.

Calling for legislation to set secrecy statutes, the commission said that "secrets in the federal government are whatever anyone with a stamp decides to stamp secret."

The commission made the following recommendations:

  • Classifying information should be kept to an absolute minimum, used only when national security interests are clearly at stake.
  • Just as the President should establish procedures for classifying information, he should also establish procedures for declassifying information.
  • If there is significant doubt whether information should be classified, then it should not be classified.
  • Unless the risk is too great, information should be declassified after ten years. All information should be declassified after 30 years, unless it would do an individual or the government serious harm to disclose it.
  • A National Declassification Center should be established.
Criticizing personnel clearance measures as still being based on the fear of Communist subversion, the commission said federal employees with security clearances should be more routinely scrutinized, because most security breaches are made by employees who receive clearances and later in their careers decide to commit espionage.

The committee also recommended eliminating interviews with neighbors and friends of employees and allowing employees with a certain level of security clearance to transfer to another agency at the same level without additional background checks.

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