Senate Intelligence Committee’s Bill is Troubling for Openness, Accountability

Last week the Senate Intelligence Committee unveiled its version of the 2013 Intelligence Authorization bill, S.3454, which includes twelve provisions intended to address leaks of classified information. The leaks proposal, which was hastily drawn up by the leadership of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee without the benefit of hearings or other outside input, has drawn concern from a wide range of groups concerned with openness and civil liberties.

The overall effect of the proposal, if signed into law, would be to limit the public's right to know and our ability to have a healthy, informed debate about our nation's intelligence policies. We recently joined with our coalition partner the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) and others to raise particular concerns about provisions that would make the unauthorized disclosure of any classified information a punishable offense, regardless of its public policy significance, and threatens free speech rights and due process of current and former federal employees. Furthermore, the proposal fails to address persistent problems like overclassification and protections for whistleblowers that aggravate the balance between the public's right to know and legitimate security concerns.

Unfortunately, where the Senate Intelligence proposal does address one of the sources of leaks — the high number of security clearances across the federal government — it actually removes an accountability measure from system. Section 308 of S.3454 excuses the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) from delivering an annual report to Congress that has shed a lot of light on the size and operation of security clearance operations in recent years. Before the reporting requirement was created by the 2010 Intelligence Authorization bill, the best guess we had of the number of security clearances across the federal government was an estimate prepared by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The first ODNI report showed that the GAO estimate was low by more than a million clearances. According to the ODNI's 2012 report, there are approximately 4.8 million people with access to our nation's secrets. Eliminating this reporting requirement makes it impossible for the public to have an informed discussion about our nation's intelligence policies, and will negatively affect Congress' ability to conduct good oversight.

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