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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


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


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


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


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


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


National Archives Aided Agencies’ Removal of Declassified Documents from Public View

The National Archives colluded with the Air Force, CIA and other agencies to take thousands of declassified historical documents off Archives shelves, according to an April 12 Washington Post story.

In a 2002 memo, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and released April 11 by nonprofit research library National Security Archive, Archives officials said they would help remove the materials for possible reclassification. The Archives said in February that about 9,500 records totaling more than 55,000 pages have been removed and reclassified since 1999, according to the Post.

The memo “shows that the National Archives basically aided and abetted a covert operation that whited out the nation’s history by reclassifying previously released documents,” Thomas S. Blanton, executive director of the National Security Archive, said in the Post.

The archives would not name the agencies involved in this operation, according to the Post, but National Security Archive historians say the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Defense Department and the Justice Department also have participated.

Posted 04-12-2006 4:52 PM EDT


Bush Officials Try to Hide Global Warming Facts from Public, Researchers Say

An increasing number of reports are surfacing about how the Bush administration is making it difficult for climate researchers to inform the American public about global warming.

The latest, published April 6 in The Washington Post, says that employees and contractors at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well a U.S. Geological Survey scientist, report that administration officials have chastised them for speaking on policy questions; removed references to global warming from reports, news releases and conference Web sites; investigated news leaks; and at times urged researchers to stop speaking to media.

“There has been a change in how we’re expected to interact with the press,” said Pieter Tans, who measures greenhouse gases linked to global warming and has worked at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., for two decades. Fortunately for the public, he also said he “often ignores the rules.”

Posted 04-06-2006 1:58 PM EDT


Court Strikes Down Rule Denying Public Access to Auto Safety Information

A U.S. District Court on March 31 struck down a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) rule that denies public access to information submitted to the federal government by automakers about possible safety problems. Click here for more information.

Judge Richard J. Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the rule was not a “logical outgrowth” of the agency’s rulemaking notice, which gave no warning that the government would withhold the safety information from the public. Instead, Leon said the rule was a “surprise switcheroo” from the department’s proposal.

 The Transportation Recall Enhancement Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act of 2000, passed in the wake of the Firestone tire debacle, requires manufacturers of motor vehicles, tires and vehicle parts to give DOT “early warning” data about potential safety problems. However, the industry successfully persuaded DOT to keep large portions of that information out of the public’s spotlight, apparently to protect commercially sensitive information.

“We intend to keep fighting before the agency and, if necessary, the courts to make sure that this vital early warning data is not wrongly withheld from the public,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, which sued the DOT over the matter. “[The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] should move immediately to public the information it has been withholding on deaths and injuries.”

Posted 04-05-2006 3:52 PM EDT


IRS Must Hand Over Agency Performance Data by Tax Day, Court Says

A federal court in Seattle ruled on April 4 that the IRS must give a widely recognized researcher detailed statistics about how the agency enforces the nation’s tax laws. Click here to read more.

Judge Marsha Pechman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ordered the IRS to turn over its statistical data to Susan B. Long, a Syracuse professor and co-director of the nonprofit research organization Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

Long had been collecting the statistical information for almost 30 years, under a court order issued to her in 1976. She used the data to report on -- and often criticize -- IRS performance. However, in 2004, the agency stopped complying with the court order and began refusing Long access to the information.

“It is essential that a powerful agency like the IRS live by the law,” Long said. “This ruling, which requires the agency to abide by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and provide TRAC with information about how it is collecting the nation’s taxes, is a win for the American people, who want to assure themselves that the IRS is operating in a fair and effective manner.”


Posted 04-05-2006 3:25 PM EDT


White House Silences Dire Evidence of Global Warming

 A world-renowned global warming researcher told “60 Minutes” on March 19, 2006, that the White House is censoring and revising his findings to block his message that global warming is accelerating and could be unstoppable in a decade.

  James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says the White House is scrubbing his facts to downplay the dangers of global warming. Hansen says humans have only 10 years to reduce greenhouse gases before global warming can no longer be stopped. And humans are to blame for burning fossil fuels that pump out carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, he says.

  But the Bush administration heavily edits the scientific data and spins the facts to project a much less alarming - but politically advantageous - global warming picture, according to the “60 Minutes” story. To control the release of information related to global warming, the administration has issued an electronic directive requiring all global warming press releases to go through the White House and has limited Hansen’s access to the media.

  “In my more than three decades in the government I’ve never witnessed such restrictions on the ability of scientists to communicate with the public,” Hansen says.


Posted 03-21-2006 5:02 PM EDT

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