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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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Even in Federal Lawsuits, Justice Department Insists on Withholding Information

Is a Justice Department lawyer allowed to withhold information about a security clearance from a federal judge because the lawyer says it’s “classified”? Can Justice delete files from the computers of lawyers representing people suing the federal government? Can Justice maintain control over “secret” federal court filings?

Are these bizarre questions? Yes. But the Justice Department is indeed doing or is trying to do all these things to control the federal court system, according to a Jan. 26 New York Times article and editorial.

See, Justice is defending the National Security Agency’s domestic wiretapping program, and it is acting in a paranoid, secrecy-obsessed manner - even requiring judges to use Justice-issued computers to compose court decisions.

“Sometime during all of this, I went on Amazon and ordered a copy of Kafka’s ‘The Trial,’ because I needed a refresher course in bizarre legal procedures,” said Jon B. Eisenberg, a lawyer in an Oregon case challenging the wiretapping program.

Bizarre indeed.

 

Posted 01-30-2007 2:09 PM EDT

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Administration Ends Warrantless Surveillance Program; Won’t Give Details on New Eavesdropping Program

Is it good news?  According to the Jan. 18 Washington Post, the Bush administration has agreed to end the warrantless surveillance program that has been run by the National Security Agency.

The surveillance program will be replaced by a program overseen by the secret court that administers the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

In an unsurprising move, “administration officials have declined to provide details of how the new version of the program will operate,” according to the Post.

But Attorney General Alberto Gonzales went up to Capitol Hill Jan. 18 to talk about the administration’s changes. And he got into it with some leading lawmakers.

Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, respectively, demanded that the administration release the Jan. 10 court order allowing the new surveillance program. Both senators wanted more details to make sure the new program protected citizens’ privacy (see The New York Times article).

But, the Post reported, Gonzales suggested that the administration would refuse such demands.

And the quest for openness continues …

 

 

 

Posted 01-19-2007 5:57 PM EDT

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Surprise! Administration DECLASSIFIES Documents

At midnight on Dec. 31, hundreds of millions of pages of secret government documents - including FBI cold war files on who it suspected to be Communist sympathizers - will instantly be declassified, according to a Dec. 21 story in The New York Times.

Yes, the administration is actually declassifying documents!

According to the Times, secret documents 25 years old or older will lose their classified status, unless agencies have sought exemptions on the grounds that the material is still secret. (But it could take months before the declassified papers are ready for researchers, because of considerations such as a growing backlog of records at the National Archives.)

“It [the information] represents the classified history of a momentous period, the cold war,” said Steven Aftergood, who runs a project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists. “Almost every current headline has an echo in the declassified past, whether it’s coping with nuclear weapons, understanding the Middle East or dictatorship and democracy in Latin America.”

And every year from now on, millions of additional documents will automatically be declassified as they reach 25.

Posted 12-21-2006 5:02 PM EDT

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Administration Overreaches, Tries to Keep Harmless Memo Secret

Even more evidence has surfaced to show that the Bush administration is trying to hide from the public information that has absolutely no impact on national security, according to a Dec. 19 story and editorial in The Washington Post.

This time, the administration was trying to hush the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which had a “classified” document that turned out to be an Army memo outlining rules about photographing prisoners of war and detainees in Iraq. Federal prosecutors demanded that the ACLU hand over all copies of the document.

Luckily, the administration realized it was overreaching in trying to force the ACLU and dropped its demand on Dec. 18, according to the Post story.

But the document should never have been classified in the first place.

“It’s commonly accepted that overclassification is rampant, but even so it’s hard to make sense of this one,” according to the Post’s editorial.

 

 

Posted 12-20-2006 10:56 AM EDT

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Administration: Shut Public Out of Hearings Examining Mercury-Based Vaccine Link to Autism

On June 11, 2007, a trial examining whether the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal contributed to autism in the vaccine recipients will commence. The claimants in the case want compensation from a special vaccine injury fund administered by the federal government.

Surprise, surprise - the Bush administration wants to keep the trial a secret. The  administration wants to hold the hearings in a sealed courtroom, off-limits to the public and press, according to a new post by David Kirby (“The Other Secret Bush Court?,” The Huffington Post, Nov. 15, 2006).

Just another way the administration is trying to hide critical information from the public.

Posted 11-27-2006 5:55 PM EDT

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Government Shells Out Billions to Secure Classified Information

Last year, the government spent a mind-bogglingly wasteful $7.7 billion (yes, that’s with a “B”) on securing classified information, and it made more than 14 million (with an “M”) new decisions to classify information, according to a new report by OpenTheGovernment.org, a coalition of consumer and good government groups, journalists and others focused on opening the federal government.

The amount spent on securing classified information includes the relatively miniscule amount spent on declassifying documents - $57 million, according to the report, “Secrecy Report Card 2006.” And the authors kindly translate these insanely huge amounts into real-life dollars: For every dollar spent on declassifying information, $134 was spent on classifying.

“The current administration has exercised an unprecedented level of restriction of access to information about, and suppression of discussion of, the federal government’s policies and decisions,” according to the report.

And you thought we were making all this up???

 

Posted 09-21-2006 10:58 AM EDT

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The ‘deepening government illness’: Secrecy

The Bush administration’s fixation on secrecy is more than just ludicrous - it’s a serious threat to democracy and an insult to our nation’s history, says an Aug. 28 New York Times editorial.

The Times uses the administration’s latest secrecy fiasco - the reclassification of numbers of Cold War-era missiles and bombers, made public in the early 1970s - as the latest example of the administration’s abuse of reclassification in the name of “national security.”

“The missile blackout is the latest symptom of a deepening government illness,” the editorial said. “National security has become the excuse for efforts to crack down on whistle-blowers and journalists dealing in such vital disclosures as the illicit eavesdropping on Americans.”

Posted 08-28-2006 3:50 PM EDT

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Public For Decades, Cold War Missile Documents Classified by Bush Administration

The Bush administration is still stubbornly clinging to its misguided desire to classify documents that have been public for decades, according to an Aug. 21 article in The Washington Post.

These latest documents contain information about the numbers of strategic weapons in the U.S. nuclear arsenal - during the Cold War (which ended more than a decade ago).

Even during the Cold War, the U.S. government gave the former Soviet Union - our enemy -   some of the information that the Bush administration is trying to keep secret.

One of the most absurd classifications is a chart showing that decades ago, the United States had 30 strategic bomber squadrons, 54 Titan intercontinental ballistic missiles and 1,000 Minuteman missiles. The military presented the chart to a congressional committee in 1971, but the numbers, which became public, were redacted from a copy of the chart researchers received this year, according to the Post.

“It would be difficult to find more dramatic examples of unjustifiable secrecy than these decisions to classify the numbers of U.S. strategic weapons,” wrote William Burr, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive. “The Pentagon is now trying to keep secret numbers of strategic weapons that have never been classified before.”

Added Thomas Blanton, the archive’s director, “It's yet another example of silly secrecy.”

 

Posted 08-22-2006 12:32 PM EDT

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Bush Administration Secrecy Deflates Justice Investigation

The Bush administration’s commitment to secrecy has reached unprecedented levels. This time, it is blocking one of its agencies - the Justice Department - from finding out what’s happening in another one of its agencies - the National Security Agency (NSA).

President Bush prevented Justice’s internal affairs office, the Office of Professional Responsibility, from investigating the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program by refusing to grant security clearances to attorneys trying to investigate the program, according to a July 19 Washington Post story.

“The president decided that protecting the secrecy and security of the program requires that a strict limit be placed on the number of persons granted access to information about the program for non-operational reasons,” wrote Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in a letter to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Every additional security clearance that is granted for the [program] increases the risk that national security might be compromised.”

The post-9/11 surveillance program allows the NSA to intercept telephone calls and e-mails between the United States and overseas locations without court approval if one of the parties is suspected of links to terrorist groups, according to the Post. It is the focus of several lawsuits and conflict between the administration and Congress over its legality, according to the story.

 

 

 

 

Posted 07-26-2006 1:18 PM EDT

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Bush Administration Aims to Thwart FOIA

St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas, will be receiving $1 million from the federal government to come up with ways to prevent the press and public from accessing “sensitive” information currently available to them via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

According to USA Today, Jeffrey Addicott, a law professor at St. Mary’s, plans to use the money to create a “model statute” for that Congress and states could use to prevent sensitive or dangerous information from falling into the wrong hands.

However, while it would be fine to prevent important data from going to terrorists, this federally funded research will provide the Bush administration with more ways to deny the public and the press information that they can rightfully access.

Paul McMasters of the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va., says it best: “Restricting information for security and efficiency and comfort level, that’s the good story. The bad story is that it can also be a great instrument of control. … To automatically believe that the less known the better is not really rational.”

Posted 07-18-2006 4:33 PM EDT

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FDA Cancels Closed Meeting After Public Citizen Sues

Most Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee meetings are open to the public. But the agency tried to shut the door to a July 14 meeting on Hemopure, a blood substitute, announcing the meeting would be closed to the public.

Not so fast, said Public Citizen. The organization sued on July 12 to force the agency to open the meeting. In less than 24 hours, the agency had backed down. It said it would reschedule the meeting - a de facto admission that it was violating the law - and told reporters it would open the rescheduled meeting.

Questions of safety swirl around Hemopure, which is derived from cow’s blood, and the Navy’s proposal to test the product on civilian trauma patients. The FDA had claimed it needed to close the meeting because it was to involve discussion of trade secrets or confidential information. But little, if any, of the information to be discussed was confidential or a trade secret - and even the company said it had no problem with the meeting being open.

“It is clear that the FDA was trying to hide something when it planned a closed meeting on this product,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

Posted 07-18-2006 4:10 PM EDT

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Bush Administration Obsessed with Secrecy

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but it has “fallen on hard times” recently, according to a July 18 article on TomPaine.com.

The article, written by Georgetown University Law professor (and former Public Citizen Litigation Group director) David C. Vladeck, notes that the nation is not living up to the basic ideals of an open government, which is the FOIA’s premise.

President Bush - whom Vladeck says will be remembered as the “secrecy” president - appears to hold much of the blame, as do his advisers. They were obsessed with secrecy before the 9/11 terrorist attacks even occurred, but have made it a hallmark since the attacks. This obsession extends to dealings with media, Congress and the court system as well, Vladeck says.

“After 9/11, the administration’s mantra became ‘secrecy makes America safe,’ and it embarked on an unprecedented effort to halt the flow of government information to the public,” Vladeck writes.

Posted 07-18-2006 3:35 PM EDT

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Out of the Spotlight, President Challenges More than 750 Laws

President Bush has claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office - a much larger number than any other president in history, according to an April 30 Boston Globe story.

The president has never vetoed a bill. Instead, he will wait until the signing of those bills is finished and quietly issue “signing statements,” which are official documents for a president to lay out his legal interpretation of a bill for the federal government to follow in implementing a new law.

In these statements, the president says the Constitution gives him the right to ignore numerous sections of the bills. He’s done this with military-related bills, including torture bans. He’s also done this with bills related to affirmative action, intelligence and oversight by congressional committees.

“This is an attempt by the president to have the final word on his own constitutional powers, which eliminates the checks and balances that keep the country a democracy,” said Bruce Fein, who was a deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration. “There is no way for an independent judiciary to check his assertions of power, and Congress isn’t doing it, either. So this is moving us toward an unlimited executive power.”

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said he plans a hearing in June to shed some light on the president’s assertion of authority to disobey hundreds of laws, according to an article in the May 3 edition of the Globe.

 

Posted 05-03-2006 4:02 PM EDT

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Archives Finds Thousands of Documents Improperly Resealed Since 1995

Thousands of documents reclassified by the government since 1995 were resealed on clearly inappropriate or questionable grounds, according to a National Archives audit.

According to an April 27 Associated Press story in the The New York Times, the audit found that at least 25,315 publicly available documents were reclassified since 1995. Most of the reclassifications were conducted by three agencies: The Air Force reclassified 17,702, the CIA reclassified 3,147 and the Energy Department reclassified 2,164 records since 1995.

A sampling of 1,353 of those documents found that 24 percent were resealed on clearly inappropriate grounds and 12 percent were questionable. In many cases, the reclassification didn’t make sense, because the documents were published somewhere else, according to the audit.

Even though the National Archives found that thousands of records were inappropriately or questionably reclassified, the agency declined to release details of the information contained in those records.

Posted 04-27-2006 5:17 PM EDT

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Archives Ends Secret Reclassification Programs; Full Disclosure Still No Guarantee

The National Archives will cease to enter into secret agreements with government agencies that want to withdraw records from public access, according to stories in The Washington Post and The New York Times on April 18.

The archivist of the United States, Allen Weinstein, announced the change on April 17, according to both newspapers.

“Classified agreements are the antithesis of our reason for being,” he said in a written statement published in the Post. “If records must be removed for reasons of national security, the American people will always, at the very least, know when it occurs and how many records are affected.”

Weinstein, who became archivist in 2005, said he had learned on April 13 of a secret agreement the National Archives entered into with the CIA in 2001 that allows the CIA to withdraw from public access those records it considers to have been improperly declassified. The National Archives also had agreed not to tell researchers why documents were unavailable, according to Weinstein.

An Archives spokeswoman did say that the new policy would not guarantee full disclosure because sometimes federal regulations limit the Archives’ ability to reveal the agencies that are reviewing records and why they are doing so, according to the Post.

 

 

 

Posted 04-18-2006 4:43 PM EDT

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