Secrecy & Leaks

ACLU Takes First Step Towards Prepublication Review Reform

By Jack Goldsmith
Friday, March 11, 2016, 8:27 AM

In December, Oona Hathaway and I wrote an op-ed and series of posts on the broken pre-publication review process. I was happy to learn yesterday from Benjamin Good at Just Security that “the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking records from all intelligence agencies about the standards governing prepublication review and the way those standards are applied,” and that ACLU specifically seeks information on “how prepublication review processes are designed; how the applicable rules are enforced; and the impact the review processes have on current and former employees who aim to participate in the public debate.”

The dysfunctional and in some senses abusive practices governing prepublication review — the lack of clear or uniform standards, the agencies’ regular defiance of these standards with impunity, the casual internal misuse of drafts submitted for pre-publication review, the lack of transparency, the suspicions that censorship and timing decisions are based on self-serving and non-classified-information-related biases, and more — are much, much more widespread than Oona and I were able to document. (Many people who have told me about adverse experiences with the process are not in a position to complain about it publicly.)

The ACLU FOIA request takes a vital first step in reform of the system by trying to flush out exactly what the intelligence agencies say and think they are doing in this area, and perhaps something about actual practices. A vital second step is for people with experiences to come forward so that the actual operation of the system can be understood and documented. Good has asked to hear from anyone with experience of the process, and I urge those with such experiences to contact him.