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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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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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