laws aren't the answer, panel says
By Namrata Savoor
Va. The government should create a classification scheme
that safeguards only that information that it absolutely needs to
protect and the rest of the confidential data should be open
to the public and news media, panelists said March 16 at the National
Freedom of Information Day conference.
"Even the Freedom
of Information Act recommends the keeping of certain secrets. The
question is what are those secrets that need to be kept so that
our policy makers have the ability to act correctly and rightly,"
Patrick B. Murray of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
said on a panel examining the effectiveness of anti-leak legislation.
Most of the
panelists agreed that legislation was not the best way to keep confidential
government information about national security from the public.
problem is convincing people within an administration to exercise
discipline in what they say to the press and in dealing, at the
same time, with the legitimate needs to get the information out
to the press," said Jeff Smith, former general counsel for the CIA.
of the Information Trust said there needed to be "a better dialogue
between the media, intelligence community and the government about
what requires protection."
the anti-leak provision that was a part of the bill vetoed by former
president Clinton in November 2000, Armstrong said that legislation
aimed at prosecuting government employees for revealing secrets
impaired the sourcesí right to speak freely and the journalists'
right to report thoroughly.
what weíre protecting. We know ... what information we can put out
into the public domain without hurting a source," Armstrong said.
would also not be effective in identifying the person responsible
for the leak, Murray said.
going to be able to narrow the universe of potential leakers to
the one person you can tag beyond reasonable doubt," he said.
of the Committee of Concerned Journalists said "information that
the government gathers belongs to the people, not the government."
face tough decisions when they run stories based on sensitive information,
"you balance the right and the need of the public to have the information
against what harm might occur," Kovach said.
It goes back
to "identifying the information that must be classified, having
government employees understand the need for that classification,
and limiting the classification to that information," Murray said.
During a question-and-answer
session, Daniel Ellsberg, a government worker who leaked the Pentagon
Papers to the news media, said the panelists gave too much weight
to the hypothetical lives that might be lost if secrets were leaked
to the public and not enough to the real lives that were lost, for
example, in the Vietnam War.
"I was reflecting
on this memorial with 58,000 names on it of people who were lied
to death by government officials including me and my colleagues,"
Ellsberg said. "Iíve often thought that if I had emptied my safe
in the Pentagon in 1964 or '65 ... the effect would have been that
there would have been no Vietnam war from 1965 on.
"What I learned
in Vietnam was that democracy is worthwhile, not just as an idealistic
principle or a philosophic principle. It makes for better policy;
it reduces disastrous policy; it gets us out of disastrous wars."
said that those who fight for openness must be more passionate.
"I havenít heard sufficient passion or commitment to the necessity
for changing this secrecy system ... to become the democracy that
Madison urged us to be," he said.