FOIA EXEMPTION FOR NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY FILES BURIED
IN FY 2004 DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT
Proposed FOIA Exemption Would Render Secret Many
Valuable Records Regarding the Role of the NSA in Signals
Intelligence and Cryptology History
Washington, D.C., May 5, 2003 - The
proposed FY 2004 Defense Authorization Act would throw a
cloak of secrecy over valuable National Security Agency
("NSA") records now released under the Freedom
of Information Act, including important historical records
on the use of signals intelligence and cryptology in U.S.
defense history. There have been no public hearings on the
proposed legislation, which is based on unsupported justifications.
While much of the information in those files is classified,
many valuable documents are routinely released from such
files that no longer would be available to the public if
the FOIA exemption is enacted into law. The bill is scheduled
for markup on Tuesday May 6, 2003 by the Senate
Armed Services Committee.
The NSA has falsely claimed that these files
are so highly classified that NSA "almost invariably
withholds" the documents from release. But thousands
of declassified documents from these same files
testify to the contrary, including information relating
to the use of signals intelligence in space, records concerning
the U.S. Signals Intelligence effort to collect and decrypt
the text of Soviet KGB and GRU messages known as the VENONA
project, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and SIGSALY Secure Digital
Voice Communications in World War II, and the Korean War.
FOIA exemption would stop all such releases in their
tracks and deny the public important information about the
role that the NSA, signals intelligence, and cryptology
played in U.S. foreign policy and history.
The proposed section extends to the NSA the
language of the CIA Information Act
of 1984, which exempted certain files in the CIA's
Directorates of Operations and Science and Technology from
the Freedom of Information Act on the basis of an extensive
public record, multiple hearings, and specificity as to
exactly which files would be covered. Unlike the CIA Act,
however, there were no public hearings on the proposed NSA
exemption, no debate, no testimony, and no public record
other than a misleading
page and a half justification from the NSA.
At a minimum, the proposed exemption should
not be enacted into law until the NSA has conducted a study
examining the impact of and need for the exemption and until
public hearings are held on the matter.
The National Security Archive won the prestigious
George Polk Award in April 2000 for "piercing self-serving
veils of government secrecy." The Archive's many FOIA
litigation victories include the release of historic documentation
ranging from the Kennedy-Khrushchev letters during the Cuban
missile crisis to Oliver North's diaries during the Iran-contra
scandal, and the landmark case that saved from destruction
the White House e-mail of the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton