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Don't Ask, Don't Tell

President Bush, who claimed to be a "uniter not a divider," has decided that the White House isn't going to entertain any more questions from Democrats about how his administration is spending taxpayer dollars, The Washington Post reported. That decision, conveyed via e-mail to the staff of House and Senate Appropriations Committees, stunned Democrats and scholars. The question that led the White House to take such drastic measures was how much did the administration spend making and installing the "Mission Accomplished" banner for Bush's May 1 speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, the Post said. Bush has said the Navy, not the White House, put up the sign.

"I have not heard of anything like that happening before," said Norman Ornstein, a congressional specialist at the American Enterprise Institute. "This is obviously an excuse to avoid providing information about some of the things the Democrats are asking for."

Posted 11-11-2003 12:15 PM EDT

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Gore Critical of Bush's 'Secrecy and Deception'

The Bush administration is exploiting the 2001 terrorist attacks in order to justify suspending domestic freedoms, while creating a government built on "secrecy and deception," said Al Gore in a Nov. 9 speech. He also urged Congress to repeal the Patriot Act, a law that allows federal agents to "sneak and peek" at citizens' private records; enter citizens' homes in secret; and hold citizens indefinitely without access to legal counsel or a hearing before a judge, The Washington Post reported

In addition, Gore challenged the Bush administration to "immediately stop its policy of indefinitely detaining American citizens without charges," a reference to the administration's policy of using "enemy combatant" status to justify holding U.S. citizens.

Posted 11-10-2003 4:23 PM EDT

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9/11 Panel Backs Off White House Subpoena

The independent panel probing the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has decided not to subpoena the White House to obtain records related to the attacks, The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reported. Instead, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States will rely on negotiations, which may yield quicker access to the classified documents, the Journal said. The panel wants access to documents such as CIA briefings to President Bush during the months prior to the attacks. If negotiations with the White House reach an impasse, the panel may well vote to issue a subpoena.

Meanwhile, the commission voted to subpoena the North American Aerospace Defense Command for records pertaining to the scrambling of jet fighters on the day of the hijackings, the Journal said.

Posted 11-10-2003 3:49 PM EDT

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Bush Administration Secrecy Bearing Fruit

The results of the Bush administration's secret energy strategy meetings dating back to when President Bush first took office have been "policies that broadly favor industry -- including big campaign contributors -- at the expense of the environment and public health, a New York Times editorial said. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency demonstrated another example of that bias when it decided to drop investigations into more than 140 power plants, refineries and other industrial sites suspected of violating the Clean Air Act, the Times said.

Public Citizen reported last month that a high-ranking Bush appointee at EPA misled lawmakers when he told them that weakening an air quality rule would not affect EPA's litigation against companies that violated the Clean Air Act.

Posted 11-10-2003 3:24 PM EDT

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Congress Slashes Yucca Mountain Secrecy Provision

Congress denied a request of the U.S. Energy Department to tighten the agency's control of information about the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, the Associated Press reported. In drafting the final version of the 2004 defense bill, House and Senate negotiators stripped from the bill a section that would have expanded the agency's power to keep certain unclassified information secret. The bill passed the House Nov. 7 and the Senate was expected to pass the bill this week.

If the language had not been removed, the Energy Department could have kept from the public information about possible security risks to Yucca Mountain and nuclear waste shipping routes.

Posted 11-10-2003 3:03 PM EDT

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Now You See It, Now You Don't

When the U.S. Justice Department finally released a consultant's report about the agency's workplace diversity a couple weeks ago, half of the 186-page report was blacked out. It didn't stay that way for long, though. The Justice Department posted the report on its Web site. Days later, a Web site called The Memory Hole unmasked it and published a complete version of the report, according to the Associated Press. Reporters had filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the report.

In a move that surprised us at Bushsecrecy.org, the Justice Department has tried to put the genie back in the bottle. Despite the fact that the entire document has been made public, the department corrected its "mistake" and posted the heavily redacted report again.

Posted 11-05-2003 4:13 PM EDT

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Senate Panel Gains Access to Prewar Memos on Iraq

A White House official told The Washington Post  that the Bush administration will finally share with the Senate intelligence committee CIA memos that warned the White House against saying that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium in Africa. But there are several committee requests still outstanding. The White House has not granted permission to interview "individuals involved in briefing senior administration officials" and those individual have not been identified, the Post said. Also, the Senate panel is seeking answers to questions posed to the Pentagon and the CIA as well as two important State Department intelligence reports; and it has not reached an agreement with CIA Director George Tenet about testifying before the committee.

While making his case for the Iraq war, President Bush included the uranium allegation in his State of the Union Address in January despite the CIA's concerns about the veracity of the allegation. He implied that Hussein's attempt to buy uranium was evidence that Iraq was planning to produce weapons of mass destruction.

Posted 11-05-2003 11:24 AM EDT

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Supreme Court Wants Bush to Defend Secrecy

The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered the Bush administration to justify its policy of secret immigration-court proceedings in cases related to terrorism, The Washington Post reported. A Florida resident, one of 1,200 Arab and Muslim men rounded up and detained by federal authorities after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, claims that his constitutional rights were violated when the lower courts agreed to keep the existence of his case strictly confidential. The High Court ordered the White House to respond to the man's claim.

This case calls into question whether the Constitution allows lower courts, at the administration's request, to keep secret a person's constitutional challenge to government detention, the Post said. Further, the order suggests that Supreme Court is taking a close look at the government's legal approach to the war on terrorism, the newspaper said.

Posted 11-05-2003 10:33 AM EDT

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Senators Want CIA to Show Intelligence

Senators seeking long-sought prewar information from the Central Intelligence Agency on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction demanded that CIA Director George Tenet turn over the materials by noon tomorrow and prepare to testify before the Senate panel, The Washington Post reported, citing a strongly worded letter from Sens. Pat Roberts and John Rockefeller IV to Tenet. They have been seeking this and other information from the CIA and other intelligence agencies since July. The Bush administration repeatedly made references to Iraq's stockpile of weapons while making its case for war, but so far no WMDs have been found.

"The committee has been patient, but we need immediate access to this information," the senators wrote.

Posted 10-30-2003 10:02 AM EDT

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White House Stonewalling 9/11 Investigators

High-profile senators of both parties accused the White House of "resorting to secrecy" and "stonewalling" the investigation of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks because the Bush administration has not given investigators access to key documents, according to The Washington Post. The independent commission charged with investigating 9/11 issued its first subpoenas to the Federal Aviation Administration last month. Commission Chairman Thomas Kean told The New York Times that the panel "will use every tool at our command to get hold of every document." Sens. Joseph Lieberman, John McCain and others called on the White House to release all the records related to the terrorist attacks, the Post reported.

"If they continue to refuse, I will urge the independent commission to take the administration to court," McCain said in a statement.

Posted 10-27-2003 10:41 AM EDT

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GAO Study Contradicts EPA Testimony

A new study by the General Accounting Office contradicts the Bush administration's claims that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule changes would not jeopardize lawsuits filed against electric utilities during the Clinton administration, the Associated Press reported. The study backs up an earlier report by Public Citizen.

The rule changes issued by EPA and the White House could result in reduced fines and pollution controls in some of the Clean Air Act enforcement lawsuits, the GAO said. The revisions to the EPA's "New Source Review" program make it easier for utilities to make improvements to their facilities without having to install additional pollution controls.

Three U.S. senators asked the EPA inspector general to investigate the administration's claims that the changes would not have an impact on the pending lawsuits, which were expected to cut power plant pollution by half. In testimony before Congress about the proposed rule change, a high-ranking EPA official misled lawmakers about its impact on those lawsuits.

Posted 10-23-2003 10:47 AM EDT

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GAO Faults Murky Rulemaking Process

Much of the White House's efforts to put its pro-business stamp on federal regulations is kept out of the public eye, The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reported, citing a government study being circulated on Capitol Hill. Because informal talks between federal agencies that craft regulations and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) often aren't well documented, the rulemaking process often is unclear, according to the General Accounting Office, which acts as the investigative arm of Congress. The GAO also found that OMB steers regulations in the direction favored by industry lobbyists after meeting with them, the Journal said.

John Graham, head of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, was singled out in the report because of his powerful influence and his penchant for changing rules to make them more palatable to industry.

Posted 10-22-2003 3:37 PM EDT

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Nothing to See Here

The U.S. Justice Department ended more than a year of stonewalling by releasing an independent consultant's assessment of the agency's efforts to ensure diversity within the workplace, The Washington Post  reported. Reporters had filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain the study. Now, it's all there in black and white for anyone to see -- literally. About half of the 186-page report by KPMG Consulting was blacked out by agency officials because FOIA allows them to keep secret "pre-decisional deliberative information," the Post said. Senior officials basically cut out the negative stuff but allowed this nugget: The department's attorney workforce is more diverse than the U.S. legal workforce.

"The bureaucracy run amok," one political appointee told the Post in explaining why so much of the report, including a section on "Recommendations," was redacted. The Post estimates that the study cost taxpayers a few hundred thousand dollars. Too bad they don't have X-ray vision, because reading between the lines won't work.

Posted 10-22-2003 2:22 PM EDT

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9/11 Panel to Bush Administration: On Guard

The independent commission probing government failures before and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks served notice to the Bush administration that it will go after agencies that resist turning over documents and other information, The Washington Post reported. That notice came in the form of a subpoena aimed at the Federal Aviation Administration. It's the first one issued by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, a 10-member bipartisan panel that the Bush administration opposed.

"What we have here is a very angry commission," Chairman Thomas Kean (R), the former governor of New Jersey, said to the Post. "This is a sign that we are not loath to use a subpoena on other agencies if we need to. ... Hopefully this will tell other agencies that haven't complied with our requests to get on the stick and do so."

Posted 10-16-2003 10:09 AM EDT

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Transparency Lacking in Iraq Contracts

Democrats in Congress, worried about cronyism and war profiteering, signaled they plan to carefully scrutinize Bush's $20 billion budget request for the reconstruction of Iraq, according to the New York Times. No sense throwing money into a dark hole, especially if the administration's corporate cronies are the only ones waiting at the bottom.

"We don't see transparency today," said Senate minority leader Tom Daschle. "We don't know where the money is going. We're very concerned about profiteering. And we would prohibit profiteering, and we will make the effort to do so."

Posted 10-14-2003 4:27 PM EDT

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Talking with our Lips Sealed

The Transportation Security Administration held an open meeting last week with aviation and security representatives to discuss a new report on air cargo security, but kept attendees from discussing details of the report during the meeting, the Washington Post reports. And, citing sensitive material, the agency refused to release the report. Not much to talk about, is there?

On another quiet front, pilots critical of the TSA's plan to arm them have been barred from talking to the media about their concerns. The agency invites journalists to talk with pilots who support the program, even to tour its pilot arming and screener training programs, but pilots' groups say critics are not allowed speak out.

Posted 10-10-2003 2:10 PM EDT

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Card up the Sleeve?

Four U.S. Senators are complaining that the Justice Department's investigation into the leaking of a CIA operative's identity could already be compromised. The Washington Post reports that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and the Justice Department were too slow to order employees to preserve records that could be relevant to the investigation. Columnist Robert Novak printed the covert operative's name after her husband, Joseph Wilson IV, became a vocal critic of claims the Bush administration had made to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Also, Gonzales plans to act as gatekeeper for all evidence that employees do turn over, and he hasn't ruled out the possibility of withholding documents under a claim of executive privilege.

Posted 10-10-2003 12:58 PM EDT

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Access Denied

The Defense Department has denied public access to its Internet database of department policies and procedures, according to Secrecy News, an electronic publication of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) Project on Government Secrecy. This unclassified information has been publicly available on the Internet since the Pentagon launched its Web site. But now the database has been restricted to official users only.

"If this represents a permanent change, it is a shocking development," private researcher Robert Todd told Secrecy News. "I can't believe they've gone overboard like this." Much of the information may still be found on other Web sites, including on the FAS Web site. 

Posted 10-09-2003 3:02 PM EDT

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That's Classified

That national security adviser Condoleezza Rice will take over the lead role in the reconstruction of Iraq was news to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, according to The Washington Post. He didn't find out about the switch until he received a classified memo about it from Rice. Rumsfeld, citing the memo, said it looks like Rice's job has been restated to coordinate efforts among different departments and agencies. "Unfortunately, it's a classified memo. It shouldn't be. There's nothing in it that's classified," he told the Post. "I kind of wish they'd just release the memorandum."

The White House shuffle comes amid concerns in Congress that the reconstruction effort was poorly planned and more expensive than lawmakers had anticipated.

Posted 10-08-2003 3:36 PM EDT

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Privileged Information?

It may take a couple of weeks for the White House to hand over all the documents requested by Justice Department lawyers investigating the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to conservative columnist Robert Novak and other journalists,  the Los Angeles Times reported. Why the drawn out process? Some suggest it's because the White House might be considering invoking executive privilege to protect some of the materials. "They will read through everything that is provided, and make an assessment whether there is anything in there that is potentially privileged," Beth Nolan, a White House counsel in the Clinton administration, told the Times.

The Justice Department is looking into allegations that a senior Bush administration official leaked Plame's name to get back at her husband, former envoy Joseph C. Wilson IV, for criticizing Bush's Iraq policy. Wilson disproved the administration's claims that Saddam Hussein had tried to obtain African uranium. Bush cited the allegation anyway in his State of the Union address in January.

Posted 10-08-2003 3:10 PM EDT

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