Seven members of Congress and a federal employees association filed suit yesterday seeking to halt temporarily the administration's use of a secrecy pledge aimed at preventing leaks of sensitive data.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court here, asserts that use of the pledge violates a law enacted Dec. 22 and impairs the flow of legally releasable information to Congress.
The suit accuses CIA Director William H. Webster, who oversees the administration's nondisclosure program for 21 agencies, of defying the statutory nine-month freeze on use of funds "to implement or enforce" the secrecy agreement.
A senior Central Intelligence Agency official acknowledged in a Feb. 9 court statement that the agency was still submitting the pledge to employees but had attached an addendum saying that the agreement would be carried out "in a manner consistent with" the new law. The addendum does not elaborate.
CIA spokeswoman Sharon Foster said the agency thinks that the addendum puts it in compliance with the new law but is considering a revision of the form.
The Navy and Air Force also continued to ask thousands of employees to sign a similar form after the ban took effect, but halted the practice after news reports.
The suit represents the latest round in a prolonged battle over the administration's determination to override congressional opposition and require secrecy pledges from more than 2 million employees. Those who violate the pledge are threatened with dismissal.
Among members of Congress who joined the American Foreign Service Association in filing the suit are Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), David H. Pryor (D-Ark.) and William Proxmire (D-Wis.) and Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.).
The CIA-administered Standard Form 4193, which has been signed by more than 240,000 employees with access to intelligence sources and methods, requires workers to make a life-long pledge to submit a wide range of information to prepublication censorship review. Those who refuse to sign are denied access to intelligence sources and methods.
The complaint also asks the court to order the administration to automatically void any forms signed under the CIA, Navy and Air Force pledge programs since the Dec. 22 moratorium. The Navy and Air Force have said that they would void these secrecy forms but only at an employee's request.
The suit, filed by the Public Citizen Litigation Group, requests an injunction barring use of the form through Sept. 30 as specified in the law.