CLASSIFIED….Bob Graham has repeatedly criticized the Bush administration’s handling of 9/11 and charges that they are engaging in a coverup because of their continuing refusal to declassify portions of the House-Senate committee report on the attacks.

This got me to thinking about the classification process. Why is it that only the executive branch is allowed to declassify documents?

I’m not thinking of the vast bulk of routine classified documents, which for practical reasons ought to stay under the control of various executive departments. But it’s fairly common for there to be a dispute over some high profile documents like the ones Graham is talking about, and I wonder why Congress allows the executive to keep exclusive control of this.

Is there any reason, for example, to trust, say, the Secretary of State’s opinion more than that of the chairman of the House intelligence committee? Why doesn’t Congress give itself the power to declassify documents itself if it wants to?

Or why not set up some kind of external committee to resolve high profile cases? Perhaps a group of high-ranking ex-government types: presidents, vice presidents, intelligence directors, etc. People who have dealt with the highest level of intelligence in the past, who understand the dangers of declassification, and whose patriotism is unquestioned.

Instead, Congress defers entirely to the executive. Doesn’t this seem a bit odd?

Support the Washington Monthly and get a FREE subscription