Speak No Evil


'I' YEAR is 1987 and you have just completed a career as Secretary to transfer your skills at bomb-making and strategic weapons planning to the civilian sector, you decide to sell your memories Just your publisher calls with information on your publicity tour, you get another call It's the censorship team they want to see your book and may be make a few suggestions. Welcome to the latest installment of the among secrecy obsession of the Reagan Administration.

Under the controversial directive federal employees with security clear attics would face random he detector tests and lifelong censorship According to the General Accounting Office the investigative arm of Congress that category involves some 2.5 million individuals almost halt of detail workers an additional 1.5 million civilian contractors with security would undergo similar surveillance.

But after the President suspended parts of his proposed secrecy order last week your book may still have a chance to go to press unread. "The Presidents has decided to suspend those parts of the directive," an administration spokesman said, "that are controversial and where there has been a lack of understandings by Congress."

Congress understands perhaps all too well the implications of the administrations proposed plan for monitoring the activities of government officials with security clearances Beyond the sheer numbers the unrestricted permitting threatens individual privacy and First Amendment rights By permitting one Administration to censor the writings of previous Administration officials the censorship rule--covering nearly 113,000 workers in the highest levels of government--would effectively curtail informed criticism.

Millions of others subject to the surveillance sections could find their careers impaled upon he detector rests of dubious reliability. Though a recent Office of Technology Assessment study concluded "no scientific evidence exists to establish the validity of polygraph testing," with accuracy fluctuating wildly from 17 to 99 percent officials could face reassignment or demotion for refusing to take the test. Perhaps, though, accuracy is not the intent as Richard Nixon put it in the Watergate Tapes. "I don't know whether the detector tests) are accurate or not, but it doesn't make any difference. Test them all. It will scare the hell out of them."


In light of this administration's long-standing efforts to impede freedom of expression, it is hard to find any lasting comfort in the temporary uspenston of this order. Indeed, administration officials even now continue to pursue politically palatable versions of the order. One Administration official even suggested the President could reinstate the full order after the November election.

And whatever the results of that election, the order remains ominously viable, historically. Republican and Democratic Administrations alike have sought increasingly dangerous tools ostensibly for maintaining national security and often simply for avoiding political embarrassment.

Others contend external threats require such restrictions, but fundamental political liberties are nonnegotiable. Every generations has forced its own threats...whether mushroom clouds and evil empires or invading armies and economic crises. To justify unprecedented compromises of traditional civil rights for supposedly unfamiliar dangers launches a journey all too familiar in history. Ultimately, that's a realization both those inside and outside this Administration should remember more often.