The new law will protect top state secrets for 50 years and reinforces Bolaños against Robles

Spain takes another step to cancel a law inherited from Francoism. The Government approves this Monday, in the last Council of Ministers before the summer holidays, the classified information billthe new standard that will replace the official secrets act of 1968 and that will impose a term of 50 years (extendable) from which the most sensitive and most protected information will be publicly accessible. The text will establish a minimum reservation time of four years and it will also cause the weight of the power to classify and declassify documents to swing from Defendingtoday directed by Margarita Robles, towards a ministry “more cross“, that of the Presidency, Relations with the Courts and Democratic Memory, piloted by Félix Bolaños, absolute right-hand man of the president. A department that will gain resources to take on this task and that will therefore come out stronger.

Pedro Sánchez chairs this August 1st the last ordinary meeting of his Cabinet just after returning from his tour of the Balkans. He had already anticipated that the Executive would approve an energy efficiency and saving plan —which will limit the temperature in shops, hotels or industry to 27 degrees in summer and 19 in winter— and a royal decree law to improve the prevention and extinction of fires. But it will also see the light, at first reading, the classified information lawto which he committed himself to the PNV at the beginning of the legislature, which was incorporated into the 2022 Annual Regulatory Plan (PAN) and that accelerated after the Pegasus case broke. The Chief Executive compromised with the Basque nationalistsduring the debate on the state of the nation, that the text would come out of the Moncloa kitchens in July and confirmed to the journalists who travel with him through the Balkan countries that finally will be debated in this Council of Ministers.

Four categories of protection are established, “in accordance with the common rules of the EU and NATO partners” (top secret, secret, confidential and restricted) compared to the two existing ones

What the Government intends is to adapt the legislation in the treatment of classified information both to the constitutional order -because the existing Official Secrets Act of 1968 it just was retouched in 1978, two months before the approval of the Magna Carta—as to the “standards that are handled both within the European Union and NATO”. The main objective, in short, is to change a Francoist regulation that allows protected documents to remain hidden forever for another that imposes certain maximum terms to be in the public domain. Something not only demanded by opposition groups, especially the PNV, which has made this matter a workhorse since at least 2016, but also by historians and researchers. Sánchez takes it for granted that the law “it will sit well” to the groups, although it is open to changes during the processing.

The text sets four categories protection of documents “in accordance with the common standards of the EU and NATO partners”: top secret, secret, confidential Y restricted. Depending on each category, according to government sources, the declassification deadlines range from four years —for the least compromised files— to the half century (the most sensitive), “being able be extended in some cases”. The PNV proposed a smaller range: between 10 and 25 years. The 1968 law only fixed two steps for classified matters: secret and reserved, although in neither case did it impose deadlines for declassification.

“More resources” for Presidency

The draft, which has undergone several comings and goings, with contributions from various ministries, establishes a National Authority for the protection of classified information, “with powers, among others, to guarantee compliance with regulations, coordination and support of the units of each ministry and relationship with international authorities on the matter”.

Sánchez spoke with Robles and she expressed her full agreement with the wording. In Defense they ratify their approval of a law that “has been phenomenal” and that creates a new instance, since the Jujem no longer existed

This is a key section of the new wording, because it indicates who has the power to sort out Y declassify documents. That is, to impose the secret or to lift it. The article 4 of the 1968 law It states that the qualification “will correspond exclusively, in the sphere of its competence, to the Council of Ministers and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Jujem)”. The Jujem was emptied of powers in 1984after the coup d’etat of 23-F (with Felipe González in power and Narcís Serra in Defense), and ended disappearing, so the Government was the only one that until now could qualify the files. But who was in charge?ensure compliance with regulations relating to the protection of classified information” was, according to the regulatory law of 2002the National Intelligence Center (CNI), an agency attached to Defense.

Now this is what changes. The new law places the National Authority in the Ministry of the Presidency, “as is the case in the vast majority of the countries around us in the EU and in NATO, where such a national authority is located in cross-cutting ministries and interministerial coordination,” executive sources justify. For this reason, it will be provided with “more means“to the department that Bolaños directs. It will be his ministry that proposes the declassification, although the one who will have the last word in the case of the most sensitive papers will be the Council of Ministers.

La Moncloa alleges that control must pass from Defense to the Presidency as it is a “more transversal” ministry and that it coordinates the Cabinet

Moncloa’s argument is that among the classified information there are documents linked to Industry or Economy or other ministries, so it makes no sense that Defense continues to be responsible. And besides, Spain exchanges confidential files with its European partners and allies. In Moncloa they emphasize that in the last Council of Ministers, last Tuesday, Sánchez spoke with Robles and it expressed its full agreement with the wording.

In Defense they ratify their approval of a law that “has been phenomenal“: they insist that a new body be created, the National Authority, since the CNI did not have that status, nor those powers, nor that budget, so it makes sense that it rest in the Presidency. From the environment of Robles they remember that she declassified all military documents up to 1968 and that Franco’s law “was the norm of a military dictatorship that included a non-existent body for many years”, the Jujem.

Sánchez takes it for granted that the law “will suit” the groups, although it is open to changes during the parliamentary process

However, the wording makes it inevitable to think of the political background of the decision. When the Government denounced that Sánchez, Robles and the head of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, had been spied on with Pegasus -the mobile phone of the head of Agriculture, Luis Planas, suffered an attempted intrusion-, a tidal wave was unleashed in the Cabinet . A clash between Bolaños and Robles.

Robles, not questioned in the Government

The minister pointed out that the responsibility for controlling the terminals of senior officials rested with the General Secretariat of the Presidency of the Government, which until the change of government in July 2021 was led by Bolaños. In Bolaños’ team, however, they pointed out that cybersecurity was the responsibility of the National Cryptologic Center, dependent on the CNI. Both ministers clarified “misunderstandings“In view of the fact that the tension had transpired. The director of the espionage services, Paz Esteban, ended up being dismissed, but Robles’ right-hand man was promoted to his position, hope casteleiro.

There were already frictions between Bolaños and Robles on account of the supervision of the cell phones of the president and the ministers with the outbreak of Pegasus

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The new classified information law ratifies the greater influence and weight of Bolaños in the Cabinet. He is the president’s strong man, and in fact belongs to the first ring of power from him. But that doesn’t mean the Defense incumbent is losing ground. its continuity not in question —and the president also ruled out (at least for now) a ministerial reshuffle—, but also in the Government and in the PSOE they emphasize that it has a role within the Executive, because it contrasts with United We Can and is directed towards a more temperate electorate . In other words, it covers a flank in the center that other ministers do not reach.

Nor does a proposal that Marlaska’s team raised and that this newspaper reported a week ago go ahead: that it be an organ autonomous, even if it was based in the Presidency, the one in charge of watching over the secrets of the State. The Government opts for a simpler formula: a National Authority within the ministry headed by Bolaños. The minister himself will be the one who this Monday explain the details of the new text after the Cabinet meeting. The norm will go through the advisory bodies so that they can issue a report, and then it will return to the Council of Ministers for a second reading and to be sent to the Cortes as a bill and start the parliamentary process. Until now, the Government aspired to get the text out with the PP, as it is a state matter, but the relationship between the two major parties is, right now, frozen.