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Bush-Era Official's Appointment to Declassification Panel Draws Fire

By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 11, 2009

The newest member of a panel that advises the president on declassification policy is a former top intelligence official who oversaw some of the Bush administration's most controversial counterterrorism programs.

Michael V. Hayden, a retired four-star Air Force general, was appointed to the Public Interest Declassification Board by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) during the August recess.

"The country is fortunate that Gen. Michael Hayden has agreed to serve as a member," McConnell said in an e-mail. "His long history of service as an intelligence professional makes him ideally suited for balancing the interests of secrecy and disclosure in protecting our national security."

But Hayden's role overseeing the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program as director of the National Security Agency and his defense of several contentious CIA programs and actions, including the "rendering" of terrorism suspects to third countries for detention in secret prisons and the destruction of videotapes that recorded the interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects, have led to criticism of the appointment.

Hayden led the NSA from 1999 to 2005 and the CIA from 2006 to early 2009.

"To this day, the NSA continues to conceal virtually all information about the warrantless wiretapping program," said Jameel Jaffer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project. "As CIA director, General Hayden claimed that destruction of waterboarding tapes was 'in line with the law.' "

In April, Hayden told "Fox News Sunday" that he had advised against the release of Justice Department memos authorizing tough interrogations by the CIA on the grounds that they were "top secret" and that their release would "cause grave harm to U.S. security."

The nine-member declassification board was established by Congress a decade ago. Five members are appointed by the president and one each by the House speaker and minority leader, as well as the Senate majority and minority leaders. Currently, seven members have been appointed by Republicans and two by Democrats.

Though the board has no independent authority to classify, declassify or make policy, it is poised to play a greater role in the policy process. In a Sept. 2 letter to Martin Faga, the board's chairman, national security adviser James L. Jones said he would like to begin discussions with the board about "a more fundamental transformation of the security classification system," part of a policy reform effort by the Obama administration.

Hayden has "not been blind to classification abuse," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy. But, he said, noting Hayden's tenures as NSA and CIA director, "he is not the ideal architect of the classification policies of the future."

Still, Dale W. Meyerrose, who was the information sharing executive for the office of the Director of National Intelligence in the Bush administration, said, "I have lots of personal experience with Michael Hayden in issues dealing with privacy and civil liberties, and I don't know of anybody with more integrity."

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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