The Obama administration has announced a new policy that makes it harder for the government to claim “state secrets”—a phrase we thought had become George W. Bush’s middle name—in an effort to hide shady national security tactics like rendition and warrantless wiretapping from the public.
The new policy requires the CIA, FBI, NSA and the US military to convince the attorney general and a team of lawyers at Justice that the release of information regarding such tactics presents a significant risk to “national defense or foreign relations,” according to the Washington Post.
The legislation raises the standard for “state secrets” to instances when the release of material “would be reasonably likely to cause significant harm to the national defense or the diplomatic relations of the United States.”
Under Bush, a claim of “state secrets” required approval of a mid-level official using a much lower standard of proof that disclosure would harm national security.
Bush asserted “state secrets” dozens of times, according to legal scholars.
“What we’re trying to do is . . . improve public confidence that this privilege is invoked very rarely and only when it’s well supported,” a senior department official confided to the Post. “We’re not following a ‘just trust us’ approach.”
Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, a nonprofit that promotes government transparency welcomed the change. It is “enormously consistent with open-government recommendations” that he and other advocates have made for years.
Last February, in anticipation of the policy shift, Justice began reviewing about a dozen cases in which “state secrets” had been invoked.
Surprisingly, it reversed course in just one instance—a bizarre case in which a former DEA operative has accused the CIA and the State Department of wiretapping his home.