JEANE KIRKPATRICK, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is not one to be pushed around. So no one will be surprised to learn how she responded to a request by the State Department that she sign a pre-publication clearance form covering all her future writings: she simply said no. "It is an extraordinary document," she told The Quill magazine. "You could never write after signing it."
Mrs. Kirkpatrick is right, of course. Her plans for a book and a newspaper column, among other things, would be severely disrupted if every written word had to be submitted to a State Department censor before publication. In truth, it was not difficult for her to refuse to sign the waiver as she was walking out the door of government. She could not be fired, demoted or transferred for insubordination. But career employees of government and federal contractors who have special security clearances -- more than 100,000 of them -- do not have her options. They are being pressured every day to sign this "voluntary waiver" of their rights.
No one wants former government officials to be able to divulge classified material in books and articles they write after retirement. That's not at issue. Nor are we concerned here about employees of the intelligence agencies who have for years been subject to special restrictions. What the government is now requiring, however, is more radical. In spite of a strong negative reaction in Congress when the policy was announced by the president in 1983, and in spite of a temporary suspension of that presidential directive last year, all major agencies, including Defense, State, Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Energy, Treasury and, yes, Transportation, are now requiring certain employees to sign lifetime censorship agreements.
Prepublication clearance arrangements are a form of prior restraint enabling any administration to censor the books, articles, editorials and even the works of fiction written by former government officials. These arrangements impede the free flow of information about the operation of the government and encourage the suppression of criticism and debate. What can be done to stop them? Rep. Jack Brooks (D- Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Government Operations, has introduced a bill that would prohibit any agency other than CIA and NSA from requiring prepublication clearance agreements from its employees. That bill should be passed.