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Court Keeps Decisions About Warrantless Wiretapping Program Under Wraps

A federal court that generally operates in secrecy is, not surprisingly, keeping secret the details of the courts decisions on the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program, according to a Dec. 12 New York Times story.

Two recent decisions by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s decisions are known, but the reasoning behind them is not. One, a January ruling, allowed the administration to operate the program under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. A May ruling was more restrictive, leading the administration to request that Congress change the act.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asked the court to release the opinions that detail the two rulings because the public had a right to know the information during a recent congressional debate on the issue. A federal court’s interpretation of federal law should not be kept secret, contends Jameel Jaffer, director of the National Security Project at the ACLU.

In his Dec. 11 ruling, Judge John D. Bates, who sits on the surveillance court and the Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., agreed that enhanced public scrutiny could provide an additional safeguard against mistakes, overreaching and abuse.

But that does not outweigh the need or right of the government to keep the material classified, Bates said.

Posted 12-12-2007 12:20 PM EDT

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CIA Destroys Videotapes Showing ‘Severe Interrogation Techniques’

In 2005, the CIA destroyed at least two videotapes showing the agency’s interrogation of two al-Qaeda operatives, according to a Dec. 7 New York Times story.

Why destroy the tapes? Because the agency was concerned about the legal risks of the video, which showed CIA operatives using “severe interrogation techniques” on terrorism suspects.

“The destruction of the tapes raises questions about whether agency officials withheld information from Congress, the courts and the Sept. 11 commission about aspects of the [agency’s secret detention] program,” according to the Times.

After the Times told the CIA that it was preparing to publish an article on the tapes’ destruction, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the CIA director, told employees that the agency had acted “in line with the law.”

According to Hayden’s statement, the tapes were a “serious security risk,” and if they got out to the public, they would have exposed agency officials “and their families to retaliation from Al Qaeda and its sympathizers.”

Hayden also said leaders of congressional oversight committees were informed about the tapes and told about the decision to destroy them. But Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who was the House Intelligence Committee chairman between 2004 and 2006, and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), the committee’s top Democrat between 2002 and 2006, said they were not told about the decision to destroy the tapes.

In fact, Harman said that she told CIA officials years ago that destroying interrogation tapes would be a “bad idea,” according to the Times.

“How in the world could the CIA claim that these tapes were not relevant to a legislative inquiry?” she said. “This episode reinforces my view that the CIA should not be conducting a separate interrogations program.”

 

 

Posted 12-07-2007 5:43 PM EDT

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White House Secrets: The Abramoff Edition

The Secret Service is living up to its name: The agency has identified some highly sensitive documents related to White House visits by imprisoned former superlobbyist Jack Abramoff that, it says, cannot be released to the public, according to a Dec. 2 Associated Press story.

The Secret Service’s concerns would prevent the production of the documents in a civil lawsuit, even though the Bush administration agreed last year to produce all relevant    records about Abramoff’s visits to the White House.

“This is an extraordinary development and it raises the specter that there were additional contacts with President Bush or other high White House officials that have yet to be disclosed,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, the conservative watchdog group that filed the suit. “We’ve alleged that the government has committed misconduct in this litigation, and frankly this is more fuel for that fire.”

Extraordinary development, indeed.

 

Posted 12-04-2007 1:03 PM EDT

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'Early Warning' Data Kept Out of Public's Reach

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Oct. 19 released a final rule thwarting public access to early warning information about motor vehicle safety hazards. 

Despite losing in the courts, the administration insists on trying again to produce a rule that will keep the public in the dark about potential defects and other safety hazards in the cars they drive.

The final rule released Oct. 19 restricts public access to much of the "early warning data" submitted by the auto and tire industry under the 2000 Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act (TREAD Act) to assist in the early identification of motor vehicle safety defects.

LEARN MORE. 

Posted 10-22-2007 10:16 AM EDT

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Court to Bush: Secretive Tactics Are Illegal

President Bush’s executive order to limit public access to presidential records violates the Presidential Records Act, a federal court ruled Monday in a suit filed by Public Citizen. In an attempt to keep secret records of former presidents and vice presidents, Bush’s order had wrested away control from the National Archives and essentially given office holders veto power over release of their papers.

Learn more. 

Read the opinion.

Posted 10-02-2007 3:22 PM EDT

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Bush Secrecy Reaches the Senate

Oh, what a tangled web of secrecy Republicans are weaving: On Sept. 20, The Dallas Morning News reported that a Republican senator is secretly blocking a bill reversing a presidential executive order that allows former presidents to seal their records for an indefinite period of time.

“We need to smoke out whoever it is,” said Lee White, executive director of the National Coalition for History, one of the legislation’s leading advocates, in the newspaper. “Maybe somebody at the White House called a Republican senator and said put a hold on it.”

Bush’s executive order allows former presidents, vice presidents or their representatives (if they are incapacitated or deceased) to block the release of their records, potentially shielding important information from the public.

Public Citizen and other groups filed a lawsuit in 2001 challenging the executive order. The lawsuit is still pending.

Posted 09-21-2007 4:34 PM EDT

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Outing the Energy Insiders Given Access to Cheney, Staff

The Washington Post  landed a big scoop on July 18: A former White House official gave the newspaper the Bush administration’s confidential list showing how many energy industry insiders Vice President Dick Cheney and his aides met with before writing up the administration’s energy task force report.  

In total, about 300 groups and individuals, many from the energy industry, met with task force staff members, according to the list compiled in 2001. Some of the groups and individuals met with Cheney.

The attempt to obtain the list of meeting attendees has been ongoing for years. In 2004, in response to a lawsuit filed to shake loose the list, the Supreme Court agreed with the administration’s belief that its internal deliberations should not be released to public scrutiny, according to the Post.

But, in Washington, D.C., things just don’t stay secret for very long. Now we know that such companies as Constellation Energy Group and the American Petroleum Institute   had face time with Bush administration officials - and that environmental advocates got just one cursory meeting.

“I never knew why they fought so hard to keep it secret,” Charles A. Samuels, outside counsel to the Association of Home Appliances Manufacturers (which participated in a meeting on tax credits for “super-efficient” appliances), told the Post. “I am sure the vast majority of the meetings were very policy-oriented meetings - exactly what should take place.”

Posted 07-18-2007 1:46 PM EDT

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Former Surgeon General Says Administration Silenced Him

More evidence has surfaced that the Bush administration is silencing officials and other representatives whose views, while scientifically correct, do not mesh with its political agenda.

This time, former surgeon general Richard H. Carmona, who served under Bush from 2002 to 2006, said he was silenced on issues such as the debate over whether the government should fund embryonic stem cell research, something Bush opposes, according to a story published July 11 in The Washington Post.

“Anything that doesn’t fit into the political appointees’ ideological, theological or political agenda is often ignored, marginalized or simply buried,” Carmona said. “The problem with this approach is that in public health, as in a democracy, there is nothing worse than ignoring science or marginalizing the voice of science for reasons driven by changing political winds.”

Carmona made the statement when testifying July 10 before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the committee’s chairman, said Congress needs to protect the surgeon general’s office from such politicization.

Congress should find ways to prevent the administration from silencing those who just want to get facts about anything - from public health to the environment - out to the public.

Posted 07-11-2007 4:52 PM EDT

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FDA Officials Kept Blank Calendars

If you have been wanting to know who two top officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been meeting with in recent years, you would be out of luck.

Despite the fact that their jobs involve regular sit-downs with drug company executives, lobbyists and others, the public calendars of Dr. Janet Woodcock and Dr. Steven Galson have been almost completely blank, according to The Associated Press.

Woodcock’s calendar had only three listings between January 1999 and December 2006. That’s strange, because during that time, she was the director of the center for drug evaluation and research and then deputy commissioner for operations. Both positions required her meetings to be listed.

Galson, who took over the drug chief position from Woodcock full-time in July 2005, had no listings.

The FDA says it simply was an administrative oversight (and began to fill in the calendar, after being contacted by congressional staff).

But Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee, said this is an example of the FDA’s lack of accountability.

Posted 07-02-2007 3:59 PM EDT

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Cheney Battles Executive Branch Agency Trying to Collect Classified Data

Vice President Dick Cheney must love his secrets. He doesn’t even like to share with his own team.

Check out the latest: Apparently, Cheney has exempted himself from the PRESIDENTIAL order setting up procedures for protecting classified information, according to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

For the past four years, Cheney’s office has refused to cooperate with a National Archives and Records Administration office charged with monitoring classification in the executive branch, according to stories in the June 22 Washington Post and New York Times. 

Not only did the vice president’s office not comply with a routine annual request for data on staff classification of internal documents, but in 2004, it also blocked an on-site inspection of records that other executive branch agencies go through, according to a letter to the vice president sent by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

And after the Archives office continued to complain about the matter, Cheney’s staff proposed eliminating the office.

“I know the vice president wants to operate with unprecedented secrecy,” Waxman told The New York Times. “But this is absurd. This order is designed to keep classified information safe. His argument is really that he’s not part of the executive branch, so he doesn’t have to comply.”

Posted 06-22-2007 12:44 PM EDT

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CIA Tries to Withhold Information That Is Already Public

The CIA has refused to allow Valerie Wilson, who was outed as an intelligence operative after her husband criticized the Bush administration, to publish her memoir because it discusses how long she worked for the agency, according to The New York Times.

The CIA says the information, which was classified, still is classified - even though it has been published in the Congressional Record. For that reason, the agency says, Wilson can’t put it in her book.

So Wilson filed a lawsuit yesterday in a New York federal court.

“The CIA’s effort to classify public domain information is an unreasonable attempt at prior restraint of publication and a violation of our First Amendment rights,” said Adam Rothberg, a spokesman for planned book publisher - and fellow plaintiff in the lawsuit suit - Simon & Schuster, in the Times.

The CIA is sticking to its position, saying the information’s disclosure was a mistake.

 

Posted 06-01-2007 3:48 PM EDT

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Public Citizen Argues for Release of Hepatitis B Vaccine Information

Giving the parents of a boy who was disabled by a hepatitis B vaccine information about the use of the vaccine in the United States would not cause competitive harm to manufacturers Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, Public Citizen has told a federal court.

On May 23, Public Citizen attorney Michael Kirkpatrick argued before a federal court in Miami that the parents’ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for a breakdown by lot of the doses of the vaccine should be granted.

Access to this information would allow the public and independent researchers to determine whether particular vaccine lots have a higher rate of adverse events. Adverse events are reported to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but without knowing how many doses from a certain lot have been used, researchers cannot calculate and compare the adverse event rate for the vaccines.

In March 2003, plaintiffs Dr. and Mrs. Robert Sharkey of Fort Myers, Fla., filed a FOIA request for information on the net number of doses in each lot of hepatitis B vaccine used in the United States. The request was filed on behalf of their son, 11-year-old Ryan Reed Sharkey, who is permanently disabled after having a severe adverse reaction to a hepatitis B vaccine in 1995. Sharkey v. FDA and Merck was filed in November 2004 after the FDA refused to release the requested documents, claiming that the data contained confidential commercial information.

For more information about the case, look here.

 

Posted 05-30-2007 5:08 PM EDT

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Cheney Wants to Keep His Visitors Secret

Vice President Dick Cheney’s office apparently doesn’t want anyone to know exactly who’s visiting him at his residence.

A newly released letter  from Cheney’s lawyer, dated last September, tells the Secret Service that it should not keep any copies of information about the visitors to Cheney’s residence.

The letter was posted on the Web site of the Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which has filed a lawsuit seeking the identities of conservative religious leaders who had visited the vice president at his official residence.

For more information about the letter, look here.

 

Posted 05-30-2007 4:33 PM EDT

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Who’s Making Global Warming Political Today? The Smithsonian

Apparently concerned about upsetting lawmakers or the Bush administration, the Smithsonian toned down an Arctic climate change exhibit last year - doing such things as altering the text of the exhibit to make the relationship between global warming and humans seem more uncertain, according to The Associated Press.

Robert Sullivan, who used to be the associate director in charge of exhibitions at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (he resigned last fall), says the museum’s leaders didn’t want to anger politicians, although he did acknowledge that he knew of no one in the administration who pressured the Smithsonian.

“The obsession with getting the next allocation and appropriation was so intense that anything that might upset the Congress or the White House was being looked at very carefully,” Sullivan said.

The White House says that it had “no role” in the exhibit.

 

 

Posted 05-22-2007 2:32 PM EDT

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Justice Department Refuses to Release Documents

Even with all the negative attention it’s received over the U.S. attorney firings, the Justice Department still has the nerve to refuse to release papers related to the scandal.

According to The Washington Post, the Justice Department has released almost 6,000 pages of documents relevant to the firing of the eight U.S. attorneys. But it refuses to release 171 documents to Congress.

The withheld papers include e-mails that discuss media strategies, drafts of letters to Capitol Hill, memos and other documents, according to the Post.

Can’t imagine that Congress is going to like this …

Posted 04-27-2007 2:42 PM EDT

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You Never Know What’s Secret in the Bush Administration

Intelligence officials spent months figuring out the number of contractors working for intelligence agencies, including the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency and others, according to The New York Times.

Apparently, there’s some concern about how reliant the intelligence agencies have become on private contractors. The Times article noted that the intelligence agencies have increased their use of contractors during the Bush administration’s tenure.

But the question remains: How many contractors do work for intelligence agencies?

We don’t know. The government won’t tell us, because the number of contractors is classified.

Apparently, knowing the number of contractors - not government employees, mind you - will somehow give the bad guys a leg up.

“It reveals how confused the government is about what is really sensitive and what is not,” said Steven Aftergood of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. “What would Osama bin Laden do with the fraction of intelligence workers who are contractors? Absolutely nothing.”

Posted 04-26-2007 12:17 PM EDT

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The Mystery of the Missing White House E-mails

To enable White House officials to conduct political business without getting into trouble for doing it with government equipment, the Republican National Committee (RNC) gave the officials RNC e-mail accounts several years ago. Those receiving the accounts included top White House advisor Karl Rove, according to news reports. (Check out this Reuters report and this column in The Washington Post.)

Trouble is, Rove apparently conducted some government business with his RNC account - a great way to keep that government business hidden.

Now, some of those official e-mails may erroneously have been deleted, the White House says. And some of Rove’s e-mails may have been related to the controversial firing of U.S. prosecutors.

Cover up? Or just an honest mistake? Stay tuned. We’ll almost certainly hear more about this one.

 

Posted 04-16-2007 3:59 PM EDT

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House Stands Up to Secretive Administration

Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives are joining together to oppose the Bush administration’s secretive ways, according to a New York Times editorial published March 16.

Last week, the House “overwhelmingly” approved legislation that requires federal agencies to be more responsive to Freedom of Information requests, according to The Associated Press.

The House also passed legislation that reverses a Bush decision to make it easier for presidents to keep their records from the public.

“The bipartisan support that’s emerging is no doubt driven by the administration’s unalloyed dedication to secret machinations - whether in the Iraq fiasco or the bare-knuckled purging of federal prosecutors,” the Times said in its editorial.

The Times called for the Senate to swiftly take up companion legislation.

Posted 03-19-2007 1:16 PM EDT

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Don’t talk about the polar bears unless they tell you to …

A New York Times story published March 8 says that internal documents from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Alaskan division tell government-employed biologists and other federal employees who travel in countries around the Arctic to keep quiet about climate change, polar bears or sea ice - unless they are designated to speak about these topics.

“This sure sounds like a Soviet-style director to me,” said Deborah Williams, an environmental campaigner in Alaska who worked for the Interior Department under Clinton.

Posted 03-08-2007 11:24 AM EDT

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Public Citizen Urges Congress to Curb Executive Branch Secrecy

The Bush administration's executive order to restrict access to presidential records violates the letter and spirit of the law and should be overridden by Congress, according to testimony March 1 by Public Citizen before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee. For more information, click here.

Posted 03-01-2007 4:35 PM EDT

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