“Based on this testimony and our own review of the information, it is our view that release of additional information from Part Four could adversely affect ongoing counterterrorism efforts,” the letter says. That part of the investigation remains classified 10 years later.
Graham said the response showed that even in the case of congressionally commissioned reports, the Intelligence Committee still yielded to executive agencies. He said he was disappointed at the Senate’s unwillingness to declassify its own work, even after so much time had passed.
“This material was developed by the joint inquiry,” he said, referring to the 9/11 Commission’s work. “This was not classified information that was made available to Congress by the executive. . . . I think it shows that there has been a strong deference to the executive branch.”
Graham also said that in his time as the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, no vote was ever taken to declassify information.
Some experts said that even though the provision hadn’t been invoked, it served a purpose as a negotiating chip when committee members were pressing the executive branch over the release of material.
“It’s always negotiated, and it goes back and forth. So this is one of the tools available to the Congress in negotiating for a release of information,” said Kate Martin, the director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington, a nongovernmental civil liberties advocacy group.
But she agrees with those who say the Senate Intelligence Committee hasn’t asserted its authority to make information public.
“The question for the Intelligence Committee is whether or not in their discussions with the executive branch they make sure that the executive branch is aware of the power that they have to declassify themselves. That’s what should happen, and that’s what was missing in the last decade,” she said.
It may be missing because some current Intelligence Committee members aren’t fully aware of the power. Asked about the authority, Wyden confessed that he didn’t know the provision existed.
His Intelligence Committee colleague Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., also said he wasn’t aware of it.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said Feinstein’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. We’ve since discovered and confirmed that Feinstein’s office didn’t receive our query.