ACLU sues over review process for government secrets

FILE - In this March 3, 2005, file photo, a workman dusts the floor at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Va. The American Civil

FILE - In this March 3, 2005, file photo, a workman dusts the floor at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Va. The American Civil

WASHINGTON (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging a pre-publication review required for people who have had access to government secrets.

Millions of former government and intelligence agency employees are bound by a lifelong obligation to keep national security secrets as long as the government deems the information classified. Because of responsibility, they are required to submit manuscripts and drafts for government review before publication.

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday said that obligation is too broad, often implemented arbitrarily and ultimately suppresses free speech. The ACLU and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed the suit jointly on behalf of five former federal employees.

The Central Intelligence Agency says the pre-publication review is necessary to protect national security and protect former employees from legal liability. Timothy Barrett, a CIA spokesman, said the agency "does not comment on pending litigation."

Vera Eidelman, an ACLU staff attorney, said the case "highlights the possibility of viewpoint based government censorship" and the politicization of the system of classification. Eidelman said proponents of the intelligence community are often fast-tracked when detractors are not.

"The system gets worse every year, and it applies to an increasing number of people each year because these are lifetime obligations," Eidelman said.

The suit was filed in federal court in Maryland and against the CIA, National Security Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Defense Department.