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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


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

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