Moynihan Commission on Government Secrecy
Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy, also called the Moynihan Secrecy Commission, was a bipartisan statutory commission in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 created under Title IX of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 1994 and 1995 (P.L. 103-236 SEC. 900) to conduct "an investigation into all matters in any way related to any legislation
Legislation is law which has been promulgated by a legislature or other governing body, or the process of making it...

, executive order, regulation
Regulation is administrative legislation that constitutes or constrains rights and allocates responsibilities. It can be distinguished from primary legislation on the one hand and judge-made law on the other...

, practice, or procedure relating to classified information
Classified information
Classified information is sensitive information to which access is restricted by law or regulation to particular groups of persons. A formal security clearance is required to handle classified documents or access classified data. The clearance process requires a satisfactory background investigation...

 or granting security clearance
Security clearance
A security clearance is a status granted to individuals allowing them access to classified information, i.e., state secrets, or to restricted areas after completion of a thorough background check. The term "security clearance" is also sometimes used in private organizations that have a formal...

s" and to submit a final report with recommendations. The Commission’s investigation was the first authorized by statute
A statute is a formal written enactment of a legislative authority that governs a state, city, or county. Typically, statutes command or prohibit something, or declare policy. The word is often used to distinguish law made by legislative bodies from case law, decided by courts, and regulations...

 to examine government secrecy since the Wright Commission in 1957.

The Commission’s final report, issued on March 3, 1997, was unanimous. Among its key findings were
  • that secrecy is a form of government regulation
  • that excessive secrecy has significant consequences for the national interest when policy makers are not fully informed
  • the government is not held accountable for its actions
  • the public cannot engage fully in informed debate

Sen. Moynihan reported that approximately 400,000 new secrets are created per year at the top level alone—Top Secret—the disclosure of any one would cause, as defined by law, "exceptionally grave damage to the national security
National security
National security is the requirement to maintain the survival of the state through the use of economic, diplomacy, power projection and political power. The concept developed mostly in the United States of America after World War II...

." In 1994 it was estimated that the United States government had over 1.5 billion pages of classified material that was 25 years old and older.

In 1995, when President Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president of the baby boomer generation...

 signed Executive Order 12958 regulating national security classification and declassification
Declassification is the process of documents that formerly were classified as secret ceasing to be so restricted, often under the principle of freedom of information. Procedures for declassification vary by country...

 which established a system to declassify automatically information more than 25 years old, unless the government took discrete steps to continue classification of a particular document or group of documents.


  • Daniel Patrick Moynihan
    Daniel Patrick Moynihan
    Daniel Patrick "Pat" Moynihan was an American politician and sociologist. A member of the Democratic Party, he was first elected to the United States Senate for New York in 1976, and was re-elected three times . He declined to run for re-election in 2000...

    , Chairman.
  • Larry Combest
    Larry Combest
    Larry Ed Combest is a retired Texas Republican U.S. politician who was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1985 to 2003.-Early life:...

    , Vice Chairman; Congressman from the 19th district of Texas.
  • John M. Deutch
    John M. Deutch
    John Mark Deutch is an American chemist and civil servant. He was the United States Deputy Secretary of Defense from 1994 to 1995 and Director of Central Intelligence from May 10, 1995 until December 15, 1996...

    , former CIA Director.
  • Martin C. Faga. Mr, former Director of the National Reconnaissance Office
    National Reconnaissance Office
    The National Reconnaissance Office , located in Chantilly, Virginia, is one of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. It designs, builds, and operates the spy satellites of the United States government.-Mission:...

     and Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space.
  • Alison B. Fortier, Director of Missile Defense
    Missile defense
    Missile defense is a system, weapon, or technology involved in the detection, tracking, interception and destruction of attacking missiles. Originally conceived as a defence against nuclear-armed Intercontinental ballistic missiles , its application has broadened to include shorter-ranged...

     Programs in the Washington Operations Office of the Space and Strategic Missiles Sector of Lockheed Martin Corporation.
  • Richard K. Fox, career foreign service officer in the U.S. Department of State.
  • Lee H. Hamilton
    Lee H. Hamilton
    Lee Herbert Hamilton is a former member of the United States House of Representatives and currently a member of the U.S. Homeland Security Advisory Council. A member of the Democratic Party, Hamilton represented the 9th congressional district of Indiana from 1965 to 1999...

    , Ranking Democratic Member of the House International Relations Committee.
  • Jesse Helms
    Jesse Helms
    Jesse Alexander Helms, Jr. was a five-term Republican United States Senator from North Carolina who served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1995 to 2001...

    , former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
  • Ellen Hume, Executive Director of PBS’s Democracy Project.
  • Samuel P. Huntington
    Samuel P. Huntington
    Samuel Phillips Huntington was an influential American political scientist who wrote highly-regarded books in a half-dozen sub-fields of political science, starting in 1957...

    . Harvard Professor, Director of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies and Chairman of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies; author of the Clash of Civilizations
    Clash of Civilizations
    The Clash of Civilizations is a theory, proposed by political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, that people's cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world....

  • John Podesta
    John Podesta
    John David Podesta was the fourth and final White House Chief of Staff under President Bill Clinton, from 1998 until 2001. He is the president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C., and is also a Visiting Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law...

    , Clinton White House Deputy Chief of Staff.
  • Maurice Sonnenberg, member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB).

Cold War secrecy

The Commission findings regarding government secrecy in the early Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 period have led to a reevaluation of many public perceptions regarding the period. By 1950, the United States government was in possession of information which the American public did not know: proof of a serious attack on American security by the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, with considerable assistance from an enemy within. Soviet authorities knew the U.S. government knew. Only the American people were denied this information.

One revelation of the VENONA intercepts is that many Americans who spied for the Soviet Union were never prosecuted. To do so the government would have to reveal what it knew. On 29 May 1946, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Bureau of Investigation
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is an agency of the United States Department of Justice that serves as both a federal criminal investigative body and an internal intelligence agency . The FBI has investigative jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal crime...

 (FBI) Director J. Edgar Hoover
J. Edgar Hoover
John Edgar Hoover was the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States. Appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation—predecessor to the FBI—in 1924, he was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he remained director until his death in 1972...

 sent a high administration official a memorandum reporting “an enormous Soviet espionage ring in Washington." Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson
Dean Acheson
Dean Gooderham Acheson was an American statesman and lawyer. As United States Secretary of State in the administration of President Harry S. Truman from 1949 to 1953, he played a central role in defining American foreign policy during the Cold War...

 was (falsely) at the top of the list. Truman distrusted Hoover and suspected Hoover of playing political games. Acheson's inclusion at the top of the list automatically discredited other accusations which were on target, Alger Hiss
Alger Hiss
Alger Hiss was an American lawyer, government official, author, and lecturer. He was involved in the establishment of the United Nations both as a U.S. State Department and U.N. official...

 and Nathan Gregory Silvermaster. In late August or early September 1947, the Army Security Agency
Arlington Hall
Arlington Hall was a former girl's school and the headquarters of the US Army's Signal Intelligence Service cryptography effort during World War II. The site presently houses the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center, and the United States National Guard Readiness Center. It...

 informed the FBI it had begun to break into Soviet espionage messages. Truman had never been told of the existence of the Venona project, and always insisted Republicans had trumped up the loyalty issue for political gain.

The prosecutors in the internal-security cases of the 1940s did not know they had not been given all, or even the best government evidence, against the Rosenbergs, and others. The Venona materials would have been conclusive
Incontrovertible evidence
Incontrovertible evidence is a colloquial term for evidence introduced to prove a fact that is supposed to be so conclusive that there can be no other truth as to the matter; evidence so strong it overpowers contrary evidence, directing a fact-finder to a specific and certain conclusion.Examples: a...

 in establishing the cast of characters in the Soviet spy networks. Government secrecy allowed critics of the Rosenberg and Hiss cases to construct elaborate theories about frame-ups and cover-ups. For years the Rosenbergs' defenders demanded that the government reveal its secrets about the case. When Secrecy Commission forced the disclosure of documents, the secrets revealed the government's case was even stronger. "Over the years," said Ronald Radosh
Ronald Radosh
Ronald Radosh is an American writer, professor, historian, former Marxist, and neoconservative. He is known for his work on the Cold War espionage case of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and his advocacy of the state of Israel....

, "the Rosenbergs' defenders have loudly demanded the release of government documents on the case, only to deny the documents' significance once they are made public." As archives of the Cold War are opened, the original case made against Soviet espionage in the United States has received ever more conclusive corroboration.


There is much information within a bureaucracy which could be used to injure the Government, or the national interest
National interest
The national interest, often referred to by the French expression raison d'État , is a country's goals and ambitions whether economic, military, or cultural. The concept is an important one in international relations where pursuit of the national interest is the foundation of the realist...

 if revealed by disloyal persons to hostile nations or, for that matter, to hostile internal elements. It appears that the three-tiered gradation of today, Confidential/ Secret/Top Secret was adopted by the U.S. military from British forces in France in 1917, and was institutionalized with the Espionage Act of 1917
Espionage Act of 1917
The Espionage Act of 1917 is a United States federal law passed on June 15, 1917, shortly after the U.S. entry into World War I. It has been amended numerous times over the years. It was originally found in Title 50 of the U.S. Code but is now found under Title 18, Crime...

. The U.S. Civil Service Commission, established by the Pendleton Act in 1883, was debarring persons relating to “loyalty” as late as 1921.

The Commission Report quotes Max Weber
Max Weber
Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber was a German sociologist and political economist who profoundly influenced social theory, social research, and the discipline of sociology itself...

Every bureaucracy seeks to increase the superiority of the professionally informed by keeping their knowledge and intentions secret...Bureaucracy naturally welcomes a poorly informed and hence a powerless parliament—at least insofar as ignorance somehow agrees with the bureaucracy’s interests.

In March 1947 President Truman issued Executive Order 9835
Executive Order 9835
President Harry S. Truman signed United States Executive Order 9835, sometimes known as the "Loyalty Order", on March 21, 1947. The order established the first general loyalty program in the United States, designed to root out communist influence in the U.S. federal government...

, establishing the Federal Employee Loyalty Program, providing uniform investigation standards and procedures, and authorizing the creation of Loyalty Review Boards across the Government. The Truman Order—based on the findings of an interdepartmental committee established in 1946—was superseded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army...

’s issuance of Executive Order 10450
Executive Order 10450
President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10450 in April 1953, effective May 27, 1953. It revoked Truman's 1947 Executive Order 9835 and dismantled its Loyalty Review Board...

 in April 1953, which provided that “[t]he appointment of each civilian officer or employee in any department or agency of the Government shall be made subject to an investigation,” and made each agency head responsible for ensuring that “the employment and retention in employment of any civilian officer or employee within the department or agency is clearly consistent with the interests of the national security
National security
National security is the requirement to maintain the survival of the state through the use of economic, diplomacy, power projection and political power. The concept developed mostly in the United States of America after World War II...

.” While abolishing the Truman Order program, including the Loyalty Review Boards within the Civil Service Commission, the new Order also made clear that “the interests of national security require that all persons privileged to be employed in the departments and agencies of the Government, shall be reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and of complete and unswerving loyalty to the United States.”

In this manner, a broader “security” program was established across the Government. The political pressure had increased with the passage of legislation in 1950 “[t]o protect the national security of the United States by permitting the summary suspension of employment of civilian officers and employees of various departments and agencies. . . .” In addition, beginning in March 1948, the Attorney General’s List was published on a regular basis—with members of organizations included on such a list to be denied employment in the federal government or defense industries as well as the right to a U.S. passport
A passport is a document, issued by a national government, which certifies, for the purpose of international travel, the identity and nationality of its holder. The elements of identity are name, date of birth, sex, and place of birth....

. During the 1952 presidential campaign, Dwight Eisenhower promised to root out Communists and other security risks from government and defense industry employment— suggesting that their presence had been tolerated too easily by the Truman administration despite the existence of rules to address “loyalty” concerns. In his first State of the Union address Eisenhower promised a new system “for keeping out the disloyal and the dangerous.” Executive Order 10450 soon followed. Senator Joseph McCarthy
Joseph McCarthy
Joseph Raymond "Joe" McCarthy was an American politician who served as a Republican U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957...

 praised the new Executive Order. The New York Times reported, “The new program will require a new investigation of many thousands of employees previously investigated, as well as many more thousands who have had no security check.”

In November 1953, Attorney General Herbert Brownell would allege in a speech that Truman had nominated a Soviet spy—senior Treasury Department official Harry Dexter White
Harry Dexter White
Harry Dexter White was an American economist, and senior U.S. Treasury department official, participating in the Bretton Woods conference...

—to serve as the U.S. Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund
International Monetary Fund
The International Monetary Fund is an organization of 187 countries, working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world...

, despite what Brownell said was the President’s awareness of White’s involvement in Soviet espionage. And on December 3, 1953, President Eisenhower directed that a “blank wall be placed between Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer and secret data”—marking the beginning of the process that led to the Atomic Energy Commission
United States Atomic Energy Commission
The United States Atomic Energy Commission was an agency of the United States government established after World War II by Congress to foster and control the peace time development of atomic science and technology. President Harry S...

’s suspension of Oppenheimer’s security clearance later in December and its 4-to-1 decision on June 28, 1954, against restoring the clearance.
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