"Overly broad and unworkable, if not unconstitutional"


Geraldine Sealey
November 16, 2004 8:22PM (UTC)

The secrecy fetish continues:

"The Department of Homeland Security is requiring thousands of employees and contractors to sign nondisclosure agreements that prohibit them from sharing sensitive but unclassified information with the public."

"The department was rebuffed, however, when it also tried to require congressional aides to sign the secrecy pledges as a condition for gaining access to certain materials, majority and minority spokesmen for the House Select Committee on Homeland Security said yesterday."

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"DHS spokeswoman Valerie Smith said in an interview that all 180,000 employees and contractors are being required to sign the three-page forms as part of working for the agency, a policy formalized in May. State and local security officials are asked to sign the statement for classified information only."

"Smith said the agreements do not exempt underlying information from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Signers are given the form 'simply to inform and educate them about the sensitivity of that information and the need to protect it. . . . It does not do anything to further obscure or shroud that information,' she said."

"But congressional critics and government watchdog organizations such as the Federation of American Scientists call the policy a potentially precedent-setting expansion of official secrecy whose provisions are overly broad and unworkable, if not unconstitutional. Ken Johnson, spokesman for House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), said GOP aides have been approached by DHS officials as a group and individually. One junior aide contacted directly signed the agreement, but his supervisors and Cox repudiated it as soon as they found out."

"'We have steadfastly refused to sign any nondisclosure agreements. From our perspective it would be inappropriate, and at the very least unnecessary,' Johnson said. 'This is unclassified material and Congress has a right to it without signing away our lives.'"


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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