Keeping secrets

Oct 25, 2000 at 12:00 am

U.S. Rep. John Conyers is having a fit. And the Democrat is not alone. Some Republicans — and conservative ones at that — also are outraged over an attempt by some congressional folks to punish those who leak “classified government information” with jail time, a $10,000 fine or both.

In a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is sponsoring the law, Conyers argues that laws already are in place that make it illegal to leak certain national defense information. And criminalizing all leaks would prevent the public from getting critical information that relates to governmental misdeeds, writes Conyers. In an exchange captured in the Congressional Record, Conyers told colleagues that had the bill passed 30 years earlier, we may not have found out about the CIA’s complicity in the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile, basic information about the CIA’s budget and the scope of U.S. government activities in Vietnam.

Former U.S. Attorney Bob Barr — an archconservative House member from Georgia — is quoted as saying the new law will “silence whistle-blowers” as never before. That quote, by the way, appeared in a scathing commentary by John Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon.

The little sneaks sponsoring the bill also bypassed the Judiciary Committee, which normally reviews such laws, said Conyers. OK, the ranking Democrat on that committee didn’t use the word sneaks, but he did use the word “travesty,” so you get the point. And they put President Clinton in a tight spot. The sponsors slyly attached the bill to another that needs passage or the intelligence agency will not be funded for the coming fiscal year. So if Clinton vetoes the bill, so too go the funds for the intelligence agency. Now wouldn’t that be a shame?

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]