Wednesday, March 29

The Government proposes in its law to hide the great secrets of State for up to half a century

Pedro Sánchez and Félix Bolaños, chat in the hemicycle of the Congress of Deputies. / EFE

The draft that the Executive approves today is located in the most restrictive strip of the EU and leaves the declassification in the hands of Bolaños

The great secrets of State, those matters that if they saw the light ahead of time would be in a position to cause “exceptionally serious” damage to the interests of Spain, may remain hidden for up to half a century. This is determined by the final text of the preliminary draft of the new law on official secrets that the Council of Ministers will approve today, at its last meeting before vacation.

The Government has finally opted to position itself in the most restrictive strip of the EU and NATO partners, setting a time frame for the declassification of the most sensitive issues –particularly those that affect national defense and security– comparable to those of the most reluctant Western countries to lift the veil such as France and Germany. The French State also moves in a limit of 50 years for matters that violate self-defense, although it can reach 100 for circumstances that concern specific people; in the German case, confidentiality goes up to 60. Spain will, however, be placed well above the maximum 20 years with which the Government can shield sensitive information in the United Kingdom, the 15 determined by law in Italy or the 25 reserved official secrets in the United States.

The new regulations, which will be officially called the ‘Classified Information Law’, will replace the Francoist regulations on official secrets of 1968 and which empowers the Executive to keep any matter it deems secret eternally. As has been revealed in the last few hours by senior officials in Moncloa, the text that reaches the Council of Ministers today is not going to be far from the draft that the Minister of the Presidency, Félix Bolaños, already prepared last October, only four months after receiving the task of centralizing the work for the reform that until then had been dispersed between Defense, Interior, Foreign Affairs and Justice.

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The preliminary draft establishes that the declassification will range from four to 50 years depending on the sensitivity of the matter that is made public and “these terms may be extended in some cases.” There will be four levels: Top Secret, Secret, Confidential, and Restricted. The levels will be set based on the seriousness of the damage that the dissemination of the data in question could cause to the interests of Spain (extremely serious; serious; harmful; or simply unfavorable for the country).

Currently, Spain only regulates two categories of matters –secret and reserved–, which is why the authorities have been exchanging sensitive information with its NATO partners since 1982 and with those of the EU since 1985 without legal protection, simply using the seals “confidential” or “limited release”.

The terms of the draft are well above the initial proposals of the PSOE. The Socialists, being in opposition, amended the proposal of the PNV, the formation that with greater insistence for almost five years has pressed to end Franco’s legislation. So, they set a maximum ceiling for the secret of 25 years, extendable to another 10 more. Now, Bolaños’ text is even more restrictive than the first draft of the PP, which at the time advocated shielding the most sensitive matters for 25 years and only extending them to 50 in exceptional cases.

Government officials have explained in recent hours that, in reality, the Executive did not have much room for maneuver with the declassification periods because this is a matter established by NATO technicians. In any case, Moncloa emphasizes that the draft “will standardize our legislation on official secrets with other democratic countries around us.”

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To the liking of Robles

The preliminary draft, according to the sources of the Executive, has been to the liking of the head of Defense, Margarita Robles, and the senior officials of her department. Although Defense, like the rest of the ministries, was removed from this reform after Bolaños’ arrival at the Ministry of the Presidency in July 2021, it has been the one that has continued to participate the most and press to increase the temporary terms of confidentiality.

Another of the great novelties that the proposal that will begin its parliamentary journey this fall will incorporate will be the creation of the figure of the “national authority for the protection of classified information”, which will also fall to the Minister of the Presidency. The Government has decided to reside this decision in the Bolaños portfolio because it is a “coordination” and “transversal” department. In fact, it is likely that on many occasions the matters to be revealed affect ministries as disparate as Industry, Economy, Interior, Defense or Foreign Affairs. The current law of 1968 left the declassification in that department that declared it secret.

It will therefore be Bolaños’ team that analyzes the requests for declassification and decides on the total or partial lifting of the secret, since the same document may contain different passages with different degrees of confidentiality. The Presidency is also entrusted with the “relationship with the international authorities on the matter” when the declassification affects information shared with Spain’s allies.

«The text can be modified» before the possible no of the partners

The Government puts on the bandage before the wound. “This is the proposal of the first round. It can be modified, ”says a senior official from Moncloa, highlighting the Executive’s intention to open up to discussing the final text that should become law with all parties.

That same government official declares himself convinced that this preliminary draft “will sit well with the parliamentary groups.” But the reality in Congress, at least for the moment, is rather different. A priori, none of President Sánchez’s investiture partners is going to welcome such long deadlines to declassify. In fact, not even United We Can, sitting on the Council of Ministers, supports shielding secrets for half a century. Just a few days ago, his parliamentary spokesman, Pablo Echenique, reproached the Government for not having “talked more” with the purple part of the Executive about this law and opted for maximum terms for declassification of between 15 and 20 years, less than half of what the draft establishes.

The prospects are not better with the PNV, the precursor formation of this reform and that during the last months has been ignored, to the point that Moncloa has not communicated the main lines of its draft. The nationalists are the ones who have been pressing repeatedly since November 2016 to repeal the old regulations of the dictatorship. In their project, ignored by both the Executive of Mariano Rajoy and that of Sánchez, the peneuvistas advocate declassifying secret documents at 25 years and reserved ones at 10.

Despite the fact that the Government considers it essential to obtain the endorsement of the PNV, the nationalists already anticipated at the time that deadlines as bulky as those that have now been confirmed would make their support very difficult. For other allies, such as ERC or EH Bildu, the half-century of concealment is also unaffordable, so, in principle, Moncloa is going to look to the PP, much more inclined to preserve secrets to such an extent.

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