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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 Sept. 11, 2001 - from just over 100 million pages to just 28.4 million pages in 2004. That’s the lowest number since 1994, when government agencies began automatically releasing documents classified for 25 years or more.

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

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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

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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

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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.

National Public Radio
covered the story March 9, and it can be heard online. As NPR points out, it’s ironic that the office that was supposed to protect whistleblowers now needs protection itself.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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The Department of Secret Propaganda

The Bush administration, apparently not satisfied with the usual methods of manipulating news coverage, has been caught paying a prominent journalist to support its views and sending out fake video news segments posing as real news.

On Jan. 8, The Washington Post described how the U.S. Department of Education paid prominent black conservative commentator Armstrong Williams $241,000 to promote the administration’s No Child Left Behind law. The contract called for Armstrong to comment favorably on the law in his broadcasts and to use his contacts with African-American news producers to get favorable coverage of the law.

Armstrong has his own radio show, "The Right Side," appears frequently on CNN and other TV outlets, and has (until recently) had a syndicated column carried by Chicago-based Tribune Media Services. But that company dropped his column when it learned that Armstrong had been paid by a federal agency to promote its agenda.

And on Jan. 7, The Post also revealed that the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy has been sending out video news releases that look like television news segments and which at least 300 local TV stations have used. The segments have an announcer posing as a journalist, and many stations are believed to have used them without ever identifying them as coming from the government.

The Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog agency, said the news releases were illegal "covert propaganda." This latest abuse comes after many similar incidents. Last spring, the GAO criticized the Department of Health and Human Services for putting out similar fake news reports promoting the government’s new Medicare drug benefit.

"What is objectionable about these is the fact the viewer has no idea their tax dollars are being used to write and produce this video segment," explained GAO official Susan Poling.

 

Posted 01-10-2005 2:21 PM EDT

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Let's Not Talk About Missile Defense

Back in 1983, President Ronald Reagan promised the nation a high-tech shield against missile attacks. The White House called the plan the Strategic Defense Initiative; critics called it Star Wars and said it was an impossible dream.

Twenty-two years later, America still has no missile shield and the U.S. Department of Defense is doing its best to keep the truth about it from the public. In 2000, the Pentagon’s Department of Operational Testing and Evaluation put out a report that was highly critical of U.S. efforts to assemble a national missile defense system. The report was discussed in public hearings and reported on in the media.

Three years later, the DoD classified the document, without offering any justification - even though the substance of it was well known. The Washington watchdog organization, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), is doing its best to fight the Pentagon’s retroactive classification. It is asking people to write Rumsfeld protesting the classification, and has posted details on how to do that. POGO states that the secrecy move is most likely an attempt to stifle debate on the expensive missile defense program, which had another test failure Dec. 15.

 

 

 

Posted 12-27-2004 5:39 PM EDT

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A Ray of Sunshine on Classified Documents?

The National Intelligence Reform Act passed by Congress on Dec. 8 does create a new "director of national intelligence" position - and that’s what has gotten most of the media attention. But it does other things as well.

From the perspective of Americans worried about too much government secrecy, the law also contains a bit of good news: It creates a Public Interest Declassification Board, a body members of Congress can appeal to when they feel federal agencies are classifying too much information in the name of national security.

Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) pushed for the new board, partly as a response to a controversy over how much of a scathing congressional report on CIA assessments of Iraq could be made public. The CIA wanted to classify more than half of the report, but members of Congress got that down to 20 percent.

Last year alone, the U.S. government spent $6.5 billion creating 14.3 million new classified documents, according to a statement from Wyden’s office

The board will have nine members - five appointed by the president and four appointed by Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress. The Associated Press report on creation of the board is based on Wyden’s statement.

The intelligence act also tries to inject a bit of civil liberties awareness into the Department of Homeland Security. It adds the protection of civil liberties and civil rights to the department’s mission statement, and creates a new position to protect civil liberties and civil rights in the DHS office of the inspector general.

 

Posted 12-13-2004 12:22 PM EDT

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How to Say "No to Secrecy" in Indonesian

Fred Burks, a valued State Department interpreter for 18 years, has quit his job rather than sign a secrecy agreement. Burks, who has interpreted for Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, told The Washington Post he had quit in protest over growing government secrecy demands.

A contract interpreter, Burks had never been required to sign a secrecy agreement until last month. When the State Department told him he would have to sign a new contract in which he would promise not to reveal any information he learned in his government service, he just refused. And since he never did sign such an agreement, he has been able to tell his story to any media that will listen.

Burks was valued by the State Department because he was qualified in two difficult languages, Mandarin and Indonesian. He says he is one of three American interpreters qualified at the highest level in Indonesian.

An interesting side note: When Burks interpreted for Bush at a 2001 meeting with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarno, he told The Post, "Bush displayed such a detailed grasp of Indonesian issues at the meeting that he came away thinking the president must have been fed information through a hidden earpiece." Reminds us of a presidential debate we watched not long ago . . . .

Posted 12-09-2004 6:24 PM EDT

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Compromise Proposed on Cheney Energy Task Force

Open-government advocates launched a new initiative Nov. 30 in the long-running battle legal battle over Vice President Cheney’s energy task force. The nonprofit National Security Archive, along with several library, journalist and public interest organizations, filed a brief that points to a compromise solution that would reveal some information about the task force but allow the task force records to remain confidential.

The task force was one of the earliest, and most hotly contested, secrecy moves of the Bush administration. Assembled shortly after Bush and Cheney took office in 2001, the task force met secretly with industry lobbyists and executives to formulate a national energy strategy that was very friendly to business and ignored environmental concerns.

For more than two years, the conservative group Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club have been trying to gain access to the task force records. They believe that keeping the records secret violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Critics also believe that the task force met with energy industry lobbyists while excluding environmental, consumer and public interest input - which biased the task force’s recommendations.

While the Bush administration has lost several rounds in the courts, it has kept filing appeals. One result: The records were still locked up during the fall presidential campaign. The case is now awaiting a second hearing in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The controversy has been covered extensively in this blog.

The National Security Archive, a Washington-based nonprofit that makes public previously secret government materials, and its allies have filed an amicus curiae brief in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. They recommend that the parties work out a compromise that would accommodate the competing interests in the case. The compromise would set up a "Cheney log" providing enough information so that outsiders could tell whether non-government persons participated in the task force. That in turn determines whether the Federal Advisory Committee Act applies.

Posted 12-03-2004 11:16 AM EDT

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Don't say a word

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has taken government secrecy under the Bush administration to a whole new level - requiring each of its 180,000 employees and contractors to sign a pledge prohibiting them from divulging sensitive information to the public. The agreements apply to more than just classified information - they include any information that could “adversely affect the national interest or the conduct of federal programs” or violate a person’s privacy, according to The Washington Post.

The department went so far as to ask congressional aides to also sign nondisclosure agreements as a condition of getting information - an affront that was rejected by both GOP and Democratic aides. “They’re forgetting who’s overseeing who,” said one official of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

Violators of the pledge risk disciplinary, civil or criminal penalties. Signers must consent to government inspections “at any time or place.”

Critics say the secrecy pledges are overly broad, unworkable and maybe even unconstitutional. “Its likely consequence will be to chill even the most mundane interactions between department employees and reporters or the general public,” said Steven Aftergood, editor of the Federation of American Scientists’ newsletter. “Employees will naturally fear that even the most trivial conversation could mean a violation of this draconian agreement, and so the result will be a new wall between the government and the public.”

While the DHS says the new policy will not affect information available under the Freedom of Information Act, one likely result is that the department will be able to operate with much less accountability to the public.

Posted 11-16-2004 12:26 PM EDT

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Why Isn't Bush Secrecy a Campaign Issue?

Why hasn’t the Bush administration’s drastic expansion of government secrecy become an issue in the 2004 campaign? asks Dorothy Samuels on the editorial page of the Nov. 1 New York Times - even though she knows the answer. A member of the Times editorial board, Samuels herself recites the list of higher-profile issues that have captured the attention of the media and the public: "the Red Sox, Iraq, terrorism, taxes and the mysterious iPod-size bulge visible under the back of Mr. Bush’s suit jacket in the first debate."

Drawing largely on a September report issued by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and blogged here, Samuels cites the numerous instances of unnecessary, unwise and anti-democratic secretiveness that this blog has covered extensively. Examples: the administration’s balking at turning over key documents to the 9/11 Commission, establishment of the new secrecy category "sensitive but unclassified," and hiding detainees in Iraq and Guantanamo.

Samuels asks why the Kerry campaign has not raised these issues, and admits they’ve garnered "just a trivial level of attention." But, she says, "the implications for a second term are ominous."

Posted 11-02-2004 1:18 PM EDT

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NRC Closes Web Library to Terrorists

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced Oct. 25 that it has closed off public access to its Web library of documents to do a new security review of the site and make sure it does not contain information that could be useful to terrorists. The agency said it would probably be several weeks until the library is back online.

The NRC library never has contained classified information, but this new review is "intended to ensure that documents which might provide assistance to terrorists will be inaccessible," the NRC said. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the NRC took down its Web site and removed more than 1,000 documents that contained "sensitive information." Since then, the agency has enforced stricter guidelines on what materials may be revealed to the public.

According to the Associated Press, the review came after NBC News reported that the agency’s Web site included detailed information about the location of radioactive substances used in medicine and industry that could be used to make a "dirty bomb."

The agency said the shutdown also would cut off access to NRC staff documents about the controversial Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository and documents in the NRC hearings docket.

 

 

 

Posted 10-28-2004 11:51 AM EDT

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377 Tons of Missing Iraqi High Explosives? Shhhhh!

The theft of 377 tons of high explosives in Iraq, recently revealed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, is just the most recent example of the Bush administration’s "culture of cover-ups," writes Paul Krugman on the op-ed page of the Oct. 26 New York Times.

Krugman reports that the administration knew about the theft at Al QaQaa for over six months but did its best to keep it secret. Not only didn’t they say a word about it, they didn’t let the IAEA inspect the site, plus they pressured the Iraqis not to tell the agency about the theft. No wonder - U.S. forces had failed to secure the site, even though the IAEA had warned the occupying coalition that it should do so. The story of the missing explosives surfaced in the Times and other media Oct. 25.

Krugman quotes "the influential Nelson Report" as saying that the missing explosives from Al QaQaa are the "primary source" of the roadside and car bombs that have been killing and wounding U.S. and allied soldiers in recent months.

And that’s not all. Another amazing cover-up was revealed this week by The Wall Street Journal and the NBC Nightly News. Turns out that before the Iraqi war, the Bush administration called off a planned attack that might have killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist leader now regarded as America’s Public Enemy Number One in Iraq. Why didn’t the U.S. strike? Krugman cites convoluted reasoning about the U.S. preparing its case for war against Iraq.

Don’t expect the cover-up culture to improve if President Bush is re-elected, Krugman warns. Bush’s new CIA director, Porter Goss, is already suppressing evidence of CIA intelligence failures that might embarrass the administration - at least until after Nov. 2.

 

Posted 10-26-2004 5:33 PM EDT

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Senate Votes to Disclose Intelligence Budget, But DOE goes the other way

The U.S. Senate voted Oct. 5 to break with long-standing precedent and direct the government to disclose the total U.S. intelligence budget. That budget figure has been kept secret for 50 years.

The 55-37 vote to release the numbers came when the senators rejected an amendment by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) that would have required the government to continue keeping the numbers secret.

The change in the law is part of a sweeping revision in the U.S. intelligence network, spurred by the report of the official 9/11 Commission. That body criticized over-classification of U.S. intelligence matters and recommended disclosing the overall intelligence budget.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, would create a new intelligence czar with broad authority over all 15 U.S. intelligence agencies. The bill would reveal only the overall size of the intelligence budget - not the dimensions of any particular agency or program. The nation’s intelligence spending is believed to be about $40 billion per year.

Stevens and other senators argued strongly against declassifying the budget number. "Listen to me," Stevens said in the Senate debate. "You have not lived with how we have financed the intelligence community. The money is not disclosed. It is put in parts of the budget and you don’t know where it is. It rests with Sen. [Daniel] Inouye and me, to be honest about it, and we make sure that it is what it is. Maybe four people in the House and Senate know where this is. You are telling us to disclose it."

But just as the Senate was making a small move toward transparency, the U.S. Department of Energy was moving in the opposite direction. The Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy revealed that the DOE - which until this year made its intelligence budget public - has now classified it and removed it from the public record. In addition, the department is trying to retroactively classify intelligence budget information that has already been published.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the DOE did reveal a heavily redacted version of its 2005 intelligence budget - but with an odd little twist. For decades, whenever the federal government kept information secret in responding to FOIA requests, such pages were filled with heavy black lines where information had been blacked out. Showing a new sensitivity to its public image, the DOE this time whited out the offending passages. Sure, the information is still withheld, but it looks much less stark . . . and presents a less inviting image for the media.

Posted 10-06-2004 7:25 PM EDT

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