Sunday, August 29, 2004

Emphasis on Secrecy Out of Control...And Terribly Expensive!

As anyone who reads here will know, I am a fierce champion of the freedom of information, transparency, and accountability. To this cause, I marshall a number of arguments. Until recently, however, it's never occurred to me that an argument against secrecy could be made in regards to its operational costs. Read this, and then add operational costs of secrecy to the list (though, I would still not champion this as a primary argument, but it may be effective and worthy of reflection for those who aren't entirely convinced by the primary arguments):
The 9/11 Commission, leaders in Congress -- even the government’s top secret-keeper -- all agree that Washington’s penchant for keeping information under wraps has grown out of control. Now, a coalition of watchdog groups has documented just how much it’s costing to keep all those records away from the public eye.

During the 2003 fiscal year, the federal government spent more than $6.5 billion securing classified information, according to a new "Secrecy Report Card" from, a coalition of government watchdog and civil liberties groups. That’s an increase of more than $800 million from the previous year, according to the group, and a nearly $2 billion jump since 2001. But it’s only a best guess, really; the report card’s accounting doesn’t include a penny from the Central Intelligence Agency, which keeps even its overall budget classified.

Some of the rise is understandable, with the government’s increased focus on security since 9/11. But even some of Washington’s leading authorities on government secrecy were caught off-guard by just how fast classification is increasing -- and just how much money it’s taking to keep all that information locked away.

"I thought the secrecy system would be in the $100 million range. Being in the billion-dollar range -- that’s astonishing," said Steven Aftergood, with the Federation of American Scientists. The group is one of more than 30 organizations that belong to "This documents in an empirical way what many people have been feeling intuitively: that the secrecy system is vast and growing."