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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
Even during the Cold War, the
One of the most absurd classifications is a chart showing that decades ago, the
“It would be difficult to find more dramatic examples of unjustifiable secrecy than these decisions to classify the numbers of
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
Posted 07-26-2006 1:18 PM EDT
Bush Administration Aims to Thwart FOIA
St. Mary’s University School of Law in
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
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
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
“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
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
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
U.S. Archivist Calls for Moratorium on "Reclassifying" Documents
Allen Weinstein, the chief archivist of the United States, called for a moratorium on government agencies’ highly questionable practice of “reclassifying” documents that once were classified and were later made public. According to a March 3 New York Times story, more than 55,000 pages of documents that agencies say were wrongly declassified have been removed from public view, including Web sites.
Historians and other foes of excessive government secrecy have complained that the “reclassification” effort is often misguided for two reasons: 1) the records are already public - many have been posted on Web sites - and can’t be made secret again; and 2) there’s no valid reason to withdraw many of the records. According to the Times story, among the reclassified documents are reports on Communism in Mexico in the 1960s, intelligence estimates from the Korean War and Treasury Department records from the 1960s.
Weinstein, a published historian, called on the intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, “to commit the necessary resources to restore to the public shelves as quickly as possible the maximum amount of information consistent with the obligation to protect truly sensitive national security information.”
Weinstein, of course, does not have the authority to order powerful intelligence agencies to release documents, and planned to meet with intelligence and military officials to explain his concerns. But historians and other secrecy foes, such as a spokeswoman for the National Security Archive at George Washington University, said it was gratifying that Weinstein “took our concerns very positively.”
Posted 03-03-2006 6:18 PM EDT
Using the Law to Fight Bush Secrecy
Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ excellent Project on Government Secrecy, points out two recent articles documenting how American citizens, including librarians and lawyers, are fighting the Bush administration’s heavy-handed tendency to hide more and more government information behind a wall of secrecy.
In a thorough article in Law Library Journal, University of California law librarian Susan Nevelow Mart draws up a detailed indictment of the Bush administration’s tendency to hide information even when there seems to be virtually no reason to do so.
She contrasts Clinton administration Attorney General Janet Reno’s pro-disclosure instructions to government agencies with John Ashcroft’s message that any official who decides to withhold records will be backed up by the Department of Justice. She also describes cases where the administration simply seems to be hiding information that might be embarrassing or provoke controversy, such as the location of environmental hazards.
But Mart suggests how secrecy opponents can use the Electronic Freedom of Information Act (E-FOIA) of 1996 (an expansion of FOIA) to reclaim information that the feds have removed from agency Web sites. That is, in cases where information was previously on the Web and was “well publicized” and where “there are multiple FOIA requests for the removed pages, the agency is obligated to make those pages available in its electronic reading room.”
Mart suggests a way for people to coordinate their efforts to get those documents back in the public arena. Mart’s article is called “Let the People Know the Facts: Can Government Information Removed from the Internet Be Reclaimed?”
And in an article in Federal Computer Week titled “Decrying Secrecy, Citizen Groups Fight Back,” reporter Aliya Sternstein describes how anti-secrecy organizations are getting around government restrictions by publicizing government documents without official permission. Many of these fall into the netherworld of documents that are not classified but are not released to the public for vague or undisclosed reasons.
Posted 03-01-2006 12:58 PM EDT
Cheney's Fowl Shot Again Reveals a Secretive Administration
The news that Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot and wounded a fellow hunter in Texas Feb. 11 has raised questions about why word of the accident took almost a full day to reach major U.S. media.
Cheney hit Harry Whittington with a shotgun at about 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11. According to The New York Times chronology, the news got to President Bush about an hour and half later, but no one in the White House or on the vice president’s staff told anyone in the media about the shocking event. Instead, it was left to Katharine Armstrong, a member of the shooting party, to break the news. At 11 a.m. the next day, she called a reporter at her local newspaper, The Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Katharine Armstrong is the daughter of Anne Armstrong, a Republican contributor, long-time Cheney friend and owner of the ranch where the shooting took place.
Cheney and his staff were not commenting, but White House press secretary Scott McClellan was peppered Monday, Feb. 13, with questions from reporters about why the White House hadn’t made the news public and why it had been released through a small Texas newspaper. McClellan told reporters that when he learned about the shooting at 6 a.m. Sunday he advised Cheney’s staff to get the information out “as quickly as possible.” Cheney’s office didn’t do that.
In fact, when the Corpus Christi newspaper asked Cheney spokesperson Lee Anne McBride whether the White House would have released the information if the Texas paper had not called, McBride said, “I’m not going to speculate. When you put the call in to me, I was able to confirm that account."
A lighthearted wrap-up of the media circus surrounding the shooting and Cheney’s subsequent disappearing act appears in ABC News’ daily political blog, The Note.
But many news media took the vice president’s secrecy seriously. A New York Post editorial asked, “If there was nothing to hide, why the secrecy?”
Comedians, news media and politicians had a field day with the story, especially because it seemed that the shooting victim would recover. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who had been scandalized when the vice president told him on the Senate floor to “go *#%! yourself,” joked, “In retrospect it looks like I got off easy.”
However, on Feb. 14, Whittington suffered a heart attack, sending him back to the intensive care unit, which could change the tone of commentary on the issue.
Posted 02-14-2006 4:48 PM EDT
Administration Stonewalls on Government Spying
The U.S. Justice Department is refusing to comply with requests from the Senate Judiciary Committee for the department’s classified opinions on the legality of government spying on U.S. citizens without a warrant. The spying by the National Security Agency (NSA) has raised a fierce storm of controversy since it was revealed by the media in January.
According to The New York Times, the administration claims that the internal memos would add little to the official “white paper” already made public, but several key senators seem to disagree.
“That’s not a closed matter; we’re still working on that,” said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Judiciary Committee chairman. The committee is scheduled to hold its first hearing on the NSA spying program on Monday, Feb. 9.
On whether the NSA spying, authorized by President Bush after the 9/11 attacks, violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, Specter said the operation “violates FISA - there’s no doubt about that.” Specter is trying to dig deeper into the Justice Department rationale for the spying by examining its internal deliberations. There have been internal struggles within the department about the program’s legality, and it was suspended for several months in 2004.
The standoff over the spying controversy comes on the heels of similar Bush administration refusals to reveal internal memos on how it dealt with Hurricane Katrina and material on former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has now pleaded guilty to criminal charges.
Posted 02-03-2006 12:25 PM EDT
With Their Privacy Protected by Feds, Workers Won't Get Back Wages
When it comes to protecting citizens from government surveillance, the Bush administration usually takes a dismissive attitude toward privacy claims. But in a case where an advocacy group wants to let workers who have been deprived of their rightful pay know how to collect their back wages, the federal government is proving surprisingly zealous in “protecting” the workers’ need for privacy.
Now, Interfaith Worker Justice, a Chicago-based worker rights organization, is suing the U.S. Department of Labor to obtain the workers’ names. The Public Citizen Litigation Groups, representing IWJ, filed suit Jan. 18 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The case pertains to nearly 100,000 “unlocatable” low-wage workers who are owed back wages as part of government settlements (for example, people who are owed overtime pay that they never received).
The Labor Department’s refusal is surprising, because for two years, the department worked with IWJ on a project to create a searchable Web site to assist the government in disbursing back wage settlements to unlocatable workers. The project was the idea of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division.
IWJ began building the Web site, working extensively with the Labor Department’s technology department in 2002. But in 2004 department officials told IWJ that they had privacy concerns and cut off all communication with IWJ.
In April 2005, IWJ submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the names of all workers owed back wages under federal settlements. But the Labor Department denied the request, citing a privacy clause in FOIA. As of 2004, approximately 95,000 workers had about $32 million coming to them from the Labor Department collection system.
A press release on the case and a copy of the suit are available on Public Citizen’s Web site.
Posted 01-20-2006 1:45 PM EDT
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