Inslee signs undercover license law

OLYMPIA — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday signed into law a measure giving legislative approval to a state program that has already issued hundreds of fake driver’s licenses and license plates to law enforcement and government agencies.

The measure limits the distribution of the undercover licenses and plates to undercover or covert officers engaged in “law enforcement activities” and Inslee said that the law, which takes effect immediately, gives “legislative direction and parameters” on how the program can now be used.

“That is different than preexisting law in our state, because there was no such restriction on its use,” he said after the signing.

While the license plate program had previously been codified in state law, the fake ID program has been operating without legislative approval — and in relative secrecy — for years. The Kitsap Sun and public radio’s Northwest News Network reported in April that the CIA has been using the program more than any federal, state or local agency. It’s unclear if under the language of the new law whether the CIA could still receive licenses.

In response to a public records request, the Department of Licensing last month showed the Kitsap Sun and Northwest News Network a list of agencies issued confidential licenses since 2007. The CIA topped the list with 288, followed by the Defense Department with 198. But in recent records released to the news organizations, including The Associated Press, no mention was made of the CIA or the number of licenses they have received.

“Everything released so far is what we’re allowed to release under a combination of state and federal laws,” said Brad Benfield, a spokesman for the Department of Licensing.

Some DOL employees have signed nondisclosure agreements with the U.S. government concerning the program.

Inslee said that moving forward, any nondisclosure agreements within any state agency have to personally be signed off on by the head of that agency.

On whether the CIA could still receive licenses under the new law, Inslee appeared to back off of his stance of last month, when a spokeswoman at the time said that he broadly interpreted the meaning of “law enforcement activities” to include the CIA.

When asked on Tuesday, Inslee responded that “the law is clear.”

“We’re going to follow the law, to the letter,” he said.

Benfield said Tuesday that his agency is still working with attorneys on determining what qualifies as a law enforcement function.

“In coming weeks we’ll be working very closely with our attorneys from the attorney generals office on further developing our processes and procedures to reflect this new law,” he said.

Under the law, if requested by the Legislature, DOL must provide a report containing all of the information that is subject to public disclosure.

Rep. Jason Overstreet, R-Lynden, expressed concerns that because of the federal agreements, DOL will still not provide sufficient information about who will be getting licenses.

“It sounds like they’re going to strictly adhere to the letter of the law and allow the CIA to do it, we just won’t talk about it,” he said.

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