The Obama administration has announced a new policy making it much more difficult for the government to claim that it is protecting state secrets when it hides details of sensitive national security strategies such as rendition and warrantless eavesdropping, the Washington Post reports. The policy requires agencies to convince the attorney general that the release of sensitive information would present significant harm to “national defense or foreign relations.” In the past, the claim that state secrets were at risk could be invoked with one official’s approval and by meeting a lower standard of proof that disclosure would be harmful.
That claim was asserted dozens of times during the Bush administration. The shift could have a broad effect on many lawsuits, including those filed by alleged victims of torture and electronic surveillance. Authorities have frequently argued that judges should dismiss those cases at the outset to avoid the release of information that could compromise national security. The heightened standard — described in a memorandum issued by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. — is designed in part to restore the confidence of Congress, civil liberties advocates, and judges, who have criticized both the Bush White House and the Obama administration for excessive secrecy. The new policy will take effect Oct. 1 and has been endorsed by federal intelligence agencies.