Cheney Tangles With Agency on Secrecy
An important legal ruling is pending over Vice President Cheney's refusal to disclose statistics on document classification and declassification activity. The Information Security Oversight Office, which is responsible for the policy and oversight of the government's security classification system, has asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to direct Cheney's office to disclose these statistics.
Cheney's office provided the information until 2002 but then stopped doing so, J. William Leonard, the director of ISOO, told U.S. News. At issue is whether the office of the vice president is an executive branch entity when it comes to supporting the activities of the president and the vice president. The reporting requirements for disclosing classification and declassification activity fall under a presidential executive order.
"Basically the definition says that any entity of the executive branch that comes into possession of classified information is covered by the reporting requirements," says Leonard. "I have my understanding of what the executive order requires, and I'm going to the attorney general to ascertain if my reading of the executive order is correct."
However, Megan McGinn, Cheney's deputy press secretary, says the vice president's office is exempt.
"This matter has been thoroughly reviewed," McGinn told U.S. News, "and it has been determined that reporting requirements do not apply to the office of the vice president, which has both legislative and executive functions." Under the Constitution, the vice president serves as president of the Senate.
But advocates for release say the vice president is shirking accountability.
"No secrets would be revealed, only statistics," says Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, who urged ISOO to obtain the compliance of the vice president's office last May. "But the office of the vice president is resisting even that minimal level of accountability."
If the attorney general determines that Cheney's interpretation of the executive order is right, Leonard says it would be the final answer. "That's it for me," says Leonard. ISOO is a component of the National Archives and oversees the security classification programs both for the government and the security industry. Leonard reports to the archivist of the United States and is required at least annually to submit a report to the president about the government's classification programs and significant classification and declassification activities.
All this is not without precedent: The attorney general once before had to resolve a similar dispute over implementing an executive order on classification. That fight took place in 1999, when the Central Intelligence Agency refused to accept the jurisdiction of the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel. The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel ruled that year that CIA classification decisions were subject to ISCAP review. But in 2003, President Bush gave the director of central intelligence a veto over ISCAP decisions.