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Project on Government Oversight


Petition for Veto of U.S. "Official Secrets Act"


January 25, 2001


WHEREAS: The undersigned organizations believe that freedom of speech as expressed in the 1st Amendment to the Constitution is the foundation of democracy, and agree with Congress' repeated judgment that it is sound public policy to allow the free flow of information not damaging to the nations security, and

WHEREAS: The disclosure of classified information is already banned under current law and clearly established threats to national security can be prosecuted; and

WHEREAS: On October 24, 2000 Congress passed H.R. 4392, The Intelligence Authorization Bill for FY 2001, which includes provisions making it a felony crime to disclose any classified information and defines "classified" as "properly classified . . . or . . .that the person has reason to believe has been classified," which is unconstitutionally vague and over-broad; and

WHEREAS: This legislation was passed by an unscheduled voice vote in both houses of Congress without proper referral to the Judiciary Committees or a single open hearing on the impact it will have on the 1st Amendment and the public's right to know about important public policy issues; and

WHEREAS: Despite reassurances by congressional sponsors that it would not change the meaning "classified," the fine print in the bill removes all requirements that classified information be clearly marked to indicate its status and give employees notice of their responsibilities; and

WHEREAS: Under the new law whistleblowers would be forced to choose between exposing themselves to career-ending retaliation by seeking advance permission, or risking criminal liability for disclosing unmarked but classified information in order to defend the public by disclosing nearly any evidence of bureaucratic misconduct; and

WHEREAS: The new law invites abuse by wrongdoers who could prevent embarrassing or illegal activity from being discovered by classifying evidence of it after the fact and then preemptively prosecuting employees who bring it to light; and

WHEREAS: Had this law been effect Americans might never have learned of :
1) human rights abuses like the My Lai massacre,
2) the CIA's complicity in the overthrow of the government of Chile,
3) blank checks for the world's most expensive nuts, bolts, coffee pots and toilet seats;
4) falsified records concealing test failures that compromised Star Wars, the Bradley fighting vehicle and aircraft radar detectors;
5) Pentagon lies about multi-billion dollar cost overruns on weapons systems;
6) safety violations that made nuclear weapons and power plants accidents waiting to happen;
7) security breaches leaving nuclear weapons and other defense facilities vulnerable to terrorists;
8) false statements concealing leaks of radiation and other toxic substances into the environment; and
9) massive worker exposure to radiation.

THEREFORE: We, the undersigned organizations call upon the President to veto the legislation and return it to Congress instructing them to remove the criminal liability provisions, or at a minimum, to delay the effective date of these provisions until such time as the congressional committees with proper jurisdiction can have open and comprehensive hearings on the their effect on the 1st Amendment and the flow of information about important public policy concerns.