The 'secrecy' noose tightens

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted October 30, 2000

Proposed by Janet Reno's Justice Department and drafted by Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby -- chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence -- a new piece of legislation has been passed by Congress without public hearings as part of a larger intelligence bill and now wends its way to the White House.

The proposal would criminalize leaks of all "properly classified" government information, for the first time putting the full weight of criminal law behind the government's classification system. Such a law would make the willful, unauthorized disclosure of classified material a felony punishable by up to three years in prison.

Rep. Robert Barr, R-Ga.

"This legislation contains a provision that will create, make no mistake about it, with not one day of hearings, without one moment of public debate, without one witness, an official secrets act," argues Rep. Robert Barr, R-Ga. -- himself a former CIA official and U.S. attorney.

Though it's belated, other conservative Republicans now join with the more traditional civil libertarians of the left in echoing Rep. Barr's warning: "It has profound First Amendment implications, and goes to the very heart of the ability of the public to remain informed about matters of critical public interest, which often relate to governmental misdeeds," write Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde, R-Ill. -- chairman of the Judiciary Committee -- and ranking Committee Democrat John Conyers of Michigan, in a recent joint letter.

Proponents say the law will help stop security leaks. But current law already makes it a crime to disclose without authorization "national defense" information with the intention of aiding a foreign power or harming the United States.

Sorry, but I'm not buying this rationale any more than are Reps. Barr, Hyde, and Conyers. In peacetime, with no major military adversary on the horizon, an administration that has overruled its own advisers to OK sales of militarily sensitive information to the Red Chinese -- an administration which can't even be bothered to keep the doors locked at Los Alamos -- is not a very good fit for this particular set of sheep's clothing.

The real "enemies" from which the bureaucrats wish to keep their affairs secret are, clearly, the very American taxpayers who fund them -- which is why the initiative for this measure came not from the agencies of military intelligence, but rather from the Clinton internal security apparatus over at "Justice."

What the new law allows -- what it actually invites -- is the use of enhanced criminal powers to subpoena newsmen and other "civilians" to identify the sources of "leaks" -- not to protect our men and women in uniform, but to protect bureaucrats who don't want their systemic waste, fraud, and corruption exposed.

Under the new provisions, "I could ... see more journalists going to jail for contempt of court than I see leakers going to jail for leaking the information to begin with," comments Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters' Committee For Freedom of the Press.

This proposed law is an abomination. If it's allowed to go into effect, the very Republicans who now moan and yodel about it must be made to explain how it was allowed to slip through in the final days of a discredited, lame-duck administration. Doesn't (start ital)anyone(end ital) read this stuff?

Or are we to assume that, given the chance, the GOP plans to acknowledge her good works by re-confirming Ms. Reno for "four more years"?

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and editor of Financial Privacy Report (subscribe by calling Newton at 612-895-8757.) His book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available by dialing 1-800-244-2224; or via web site

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