Blogs 101 - 110 of 213
Government Keeps More Secrets, Longer
The federal government set a new record for creating classified secrets in 2004, according to a new report from OpenTheGovernment.org, an organization devoted to reducing government secrecy. Federal employees chose to classify information 15.6 million times last year - 10 percent more than the previous year.
They also are keeping information secret longer: Two-thirds of the time, federal employees said the information should be kept secret for 10 years or more.
At the same time, the flow of old secrets to the public dropped to its lowest point in nearly a decade: 28 million pages in 2004. OpenTheGovernment.org noted that at this rate, the federal bureaucracy is falling further and further behind in its designated goals for making old classified information public.
Declassification has dropped 72 percent since the attacks of
According to the report, the late 1990s seem to have been the heyday for reducing government secrecy. Only in the years 1995 to 1999 did the numbers of pages government secrets DECLASSIFIED exceed the number of pages of NEW classified documents.
The 2004 data came from the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office and can be viewed online. For a quick summary, see the OpenTheGovernment.org press release.
Posted 04-07-2005 11:20 AM EDT
U.S. Secrecy Policy Challenged on Two Fronts
Two aspects of U.S. government secrecy are being subjected to new challenges - one by the American Civil Liberties Union, and the other by a group of Democratic senators. Each is tackling a part of the U.S. secrecy regime installed as a response to Sept. 11, 2001.
According to a report by the Inter-Press Service, the ACLU has filed a freedom of information (FOIA) request for records on the government’s practice of stopping scholars and others from entering the United States because of their political views. An ACLU attorney, Jameel Jaffer, said that while the USA Patriot Act permits the government to exclude foreign scholars who encourage terrorism, in fact the government is excluding people “simply because it disagrees with what they have to say.”
For example, Dora Maria Tellez, a leader of the 1979 Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua and later an elected Nicaraguan official, was forced to abandon a teaching position at Harvard after the U.S. government refused her a visa.
The ACLU’s FOIA request is aimed at the State Department, the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the CIA. It requests the names, nationalities and professions of those who have been excluded under the Patriot Act. Parts of the Patriot Act expire at the end of 2005, and the Bush administration wants Congress to re-enact the law in its entirety.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, four senior Democratic senators - Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Carl Levin of Michigan, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut - introduced the “Restore FOIA Act” to roll back some of the secrecy excesses of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.
The senators are focusing on the part of that law that creates a FOIA exemption for what it calls “critical infrastructure information” about power plants, bridges, dams, chemical plants and the like. The idea was that the exemption would encourage the owners of such facilities would be willing to share information about vulnerabilities if they knew that information would not fall into the hands of terrorists.
But, Leahy said in a statement introducing the bill that the legislation is too broad. It “shields the companies from lawsuits to compel disclosure, criminalizes otherwise legitimate whisteblower activity by Department of Homeland Security employees, and preempts any state or local disclosure laws.”
The proposed legislation would expand the public’s right to know about infrastructure problems while still protecting essential security secrets about infrastructure submitted by the private sector.
Posted 04-01-2005 2:49 PM EDT
Public Citizen Slams NRC Proposal for More Secrecy
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is proposing to further reduce public access to information about nuclear safety, but Public Citizen has filed formal comments asking the NRC to withdraw its unwarranted new secrecy regulations. Public Citizen strongly objects to the agency's proposal to revise its regulations governing the protection of so-called "Safeguards Information." Access to that information is restricted to people who have undergone extensive background checks and demonstrated a "need to know" the information.
Public Citizen says the new rules go far beyond the "minimum restrictions needed to protect the health and safety of the public or the common defense and security," as required by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, the law that established the Safeguards category. Public Citizen’s press release on the matter and full comments to the NRC are both available online.
"Rather than applying the 'minimum restrictions needed' requirement, the commission is attempting to expand the category of Safeguards Information to encompass virtually anything it wants - including information important to the public such as engineering and safety analyses, emergency planning procedures and inspection reports on nuclear facilities," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "This is an unacceptable information blackout that will leave the public in the dark about the competency of the nuclear industry and the NRC."
The NRC's proposed rule would improperly restrict the public's access to important information that has proved useful in the past, the organization says. For example, using information obtained from the NRC about nuclear facilities' security capabilities, citizen groups in the early 1990s successfully pressured the agency to adopt higher standards for the protection of nuclear facilities, incorporating the possibility of adversaries using truck bombs.
The proposed rule comes at a time when the NRC is under fire for its use of the Safeguards classification to conceal industry vulnerabilities. U.S. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) recently said in a letter to the NRC's inspector general that the suppression of a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study about the security vulnerabilities of the pools in which reactor operators store irradiated nuclear fuel may be "based on the fact that it disagrees with the NAS' conclusions, not on any legitimate security concerns."
The NRC-NAS disagreement centers on whether it is safe enough to store spent nuclear fuel rods in large pools of water, or whether that highly radioactive spent fuel should be transferred to dry storage, which is probably safer but which would be more expensive.
The Washington Post, in a March 28 article, quotes NAS officials making the point that NRC Chairman Nils Diaz is misleading Congress about the Academy’s conclusions. E. William Colglazier, NAS executive director, warned that "if someone only reads the NRC report, they would not get a full picture of what we had to say."
Colglazier told the Post that the National Academy of Sciences has produced many classified reports but had never encountered such hurdles in creating a public version.
Posted 03-29-2005 5:53 PM EDT
Whistleblower Protection Unit Under Attack
The Office of Special Counsel - the federal office that is supposed to protect government whistleblowers - is being systematically weakened by its own politically motivated director. In response, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a watchdog organization, has organized a campaign to stop this negative crackdown and support freedom of information in the federal government.
The dismantling of whistleblower protection was exposed in a press alert by POGO, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Government Accountability Project.
The purpose of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is to enforce the Whistleblower Protection Act, so that if someone reveals abuses, say, at the Defense Department, they won’t be disciplined for speaking out. But Special Counsel Scott Bloch has placed a gag order on OSC staff and "purged" 12 senior staffers. The press alert reveals that OSC is "now scrambling to shrink its workload further, enlisting summer interns to dismiss cases."
POGO asked supporters of open government to come to its online Action Center to urge Congress to investigate OSC’s anti-whistleblower activities.
Posted 03-18-2005 1:48 PM EDT
Poll: Americans STILL Don't Like Government Secrecy
Despite 9/11 and the Bush administration’s war on terrorism, seven of 10 Americans are still worried about excessive government secrecy, according to an Associated Press report.
A poll conducted in early March for a coalition of media groups and others concerned about government secrecy showed that more than half of Americans feel the government should provide more access to its records. Even more said they were "concerned" or "very concerned" about government secrecy.
The poll results surprised some secrecy experts, who expected that Americans might have become more tolerant of government secrecy since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Instead, attitudes have not changed much since a similar poll conducted in February 2000.
Among the poll’s findings: 52 percent of 1,003 respondents said there is too little access to government information, 36 percent said access is "just about right," and 6 percent said there is too much.
Posted 03-16-2005 4:25 PM EDT
Justice Department Caves on Retroactively Classified Information
A hearing scheduled for the morning of Feb. 22 before U.S. District Judge John D. Bates in Washington was abruptly cancelled after the Justice Department gave up and admitted that the information it had retroactively classified could be released to the public.
Last June, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) sued then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) for retroactively classifying information related to whistleblower Sibel Edmonds' allegations of wrongdoing in an FBI translation unit. The suit alleged that the retroactive classification was unlawful and violated POGO's First Amendment right to free speech.
The information about Edmonds had already presented by the FBI to the Senate Judiciary Committee during two unclassified briefings in 2002. The information was referenced in letters from U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to DOJ officials. The senators' letters were posted on their Web sites but were removed after the FBI notified the Senate in May 2004 that the information had been retroactively classified
According to a Feb. 23 Washington Post article, a report by the Justice Department Inspector General found that the FBI "was lax in investigating [Edmonds’] complaints and fired her partly because she made them." Critics of the FBI have charged that the real reason for trying to classify the information about the whistle-blower is not that national security secrets are at stake, but rather to cover up sloppy work by the FBI.
During a June 2004 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Ashcroft defended the decision to retroactively classify the information, claiming that its further dissemination could seriously impair the national security interests of the United States, even though for more than two years the information was widely available to the public.
"The fact that the Justice Department gave up on the eve of the hearing shows that this information was classified for an improper purpose," said Danielle Brian, POGO's executive director. "If this information could ever have harmed national security, the Justice Department would never have caved in."
Throughout the litigation, POGO had offered to dismiss the suit if the DOJ stated that POGO could discuss and disseminate the letters without fear of prosecution, but the agency refused and instead claimed that POGO lacked standing to maintain the suit because the threat of criminal sanctions did not injure POGO. The DOJ backed down when faced with the prospect of tough questions at the hearing by a federal judge.
POGO was represented in the case by lawyers from the Public Citizen Litigation Group and the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center.
Visit POGO’s Web site to look at the Department of Justice's letter reversing the retroactive classification and other legal documents from POGO vs. Ashcroft, or to examine the background of the case, including press coverage.
Posted 02-23-2005 1:05 PM EDT
CIA Won't Disclose Files on Nazi War Criminals
Sixty years after the fall of Nazi Germany, the CIA is refusing to disclose to a government working group hundreds of thousands of pages that document how the U.S. government tried to recruit Nazi war criminals after World War II. The dispute was made public in a Jan. 30 New York Times article.
According to the 1998 Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, a specially appointed working group is supposed to make public "all classified Nazi war criminal records of the United States." But members of the working group have complained that the CIA has been interpreting the law so narrowly that hundreds of records are still secret. According to The Times, the CIA has been dragging its feet for about three years - that would make it shortly after the start of the Bush administration, wouldn’t it? Makes you wonder, who still has skeletons in that closet, and what can they be afraid of?
Records already made public show that the U.S. intelligence and military agencies worked closely with Nazi war criminals after the war, allowing dozens to live safely in the United States.
According to working group member Thomas H. Baer, a former federal prosecutor, "Too much has been secret for too long. The CIA has not complied with the statute." The working group includes representatives of several government agencies, as well as three non-governmental public members.
Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), one of the sponsors of the 1998 law, has asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a public hearing on the matter, at which CIA officials and members of the working group will testify.
The Anti-Defamation League, an organization that combats anti-Semitism, urged the CIA Feb. 2 to release the documents.
Posted 02-03-2005 5:04 PM EDT
Don’t Silence That Whistle-Blower!
The case of FBI whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds keeps getting more and more interesting. Edmonds, who was a contract translator for the FBI in Turkish, Farsi and Azerbaijani, was fired by the bureau when she raised questions about the competence of the FBI translation service and also accused a fellow translator of espionage.
Edmonds challenged her dismissal in court - saying it was a retaliatory firing because she was a whistle-blower who is protected by law from such retaliation. But Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked a seldom-used “state secrets privilege” to throw her case out of court because talking about it would allegedly endanger national security.
On Jan. 15, the inspector general of the Department of Justice issued a highly critical report on the Edmonds affair, finding the FBI had in fact fired Edmonds for whistle-blowing and had failed to take seriously the espionage accusation.
Edmonds is appealing her case in federal court, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. Public Citizen recently filed an amicus curiae brief supporting Edmonds, along with several other anti-secrecy organizations. For more details on the case of the multi-lingual whistle-blower, see Public Citizen’s press release, read the text of the amicus brief, or read the New York Times coverage of the inspector general’s report.
Posted 01-21-2005 5:42 PM EDT
Secrecy Policy Still Goes Too Far
The Department of Homeland Security discontinued its requirement that workers at the department sign a secrecy pledge prohibiting them from sharing sensitive but unclassified information with the public. According to the agreement, any information that could compromise the privacy of individuals or "adversely affect the national interest or conduct of federal programs" was considered sensitive, according to The New York Times.
Violators risked administrative, disciplinary, criminal and civil penalties. One provision required signers to consent to government inspections "at any time or place" to ensure compliance.
Within the next month, the department will begin computer-based training sessions for employees on handling sensitive information.
The secrecy pledge was met with wide criticism by civil liberties groups and two unions, all charging the pledge as overly broad, unworkable and an unconstitutional restriction of privacy and free speech.
The unions applauded the department's decision to change its policy, but said its revised plan for safeguarding sensitive information covered "a broad and vaguely defined universe of information." The unions also said the department's approach in managing employees may "undermine national security and the public interest by suppressing whistle-blowing and discouraging dissent."
Scott Amey, general counsel of the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group, said department employees are still at risk of unfair disciplinary action.
"A government agency should never threaten its employees or contractors with criminal prosecution for disclosing information that is available under the Freedom of Information Act," Amey said in a written statement.
Posted 01-18-2005 4:13 PM EDT
Auto Defects? What Auto Defects?
Four years ago, after the spate of Ford-Firestone rollover crashes that resulted from defective tires, Congress passed a law that required certain safety data to be gathered by the government and made available to the public. The purpose of the law was to give the public access to information collected about the vehicles they drive.
But to the delight of the auto industry, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has decided to conceal much of this critical information from the public. NHTSA is withholding warranty claims, production numbers, field reports and even consumer complaints.
Auto manufacturers too often hide safety defects to avoid the costs of recalling vehicles and say they are against making the information public because they would suffer competitive harm. This situation puts the public at risk, according to a statement released by Public Citizen. In a legal brief filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the group contended NHTSA's secrecy is a perversion of the Freedom of Information Act.
Said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, "Consumers have a right to know if the vehicle they are driving has potential safety flaws that could injure or kill them."
Posted 01-14-2005 5:21 PM EDT
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