Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Washington Post Bashes Bush Administration Secrecy

So some of you don't take this wrong, in a partisan way, it is quite obvious that the trends between the balance of openness and secrecy have dramatically shifted to secrecy during the Bush Administration. The Clinton Administration was remarkably open, and erred on the side of openness.

The Bush Administration, like its GOP predecessors George Bush (the elder), Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon, are about unparalleled levels of secrecy, back-room deals, and off-the-books military operations around the globe. The deals and operations that are going on in the dark wouldn't be going on in the light, and, for the most part, there's little defense for any of the scandals, from Nixon to Reagan's Iran-Contra scandal, to justify allowing these to happen without Congressional oversight and in denial of the balance of powers and the American way.
"It is no secret that government classifies too much information," Mr. Leonard [director of the National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office] said. "What I find most troubling . . . is that some individual agencies have no idea how much information they generate is classified, whether the overall quantity is increasing or decreasing, what the explanations are for such changes . . . and most importantly of all, whether the changes are appropriate."

Mr. Leonard, in response to questioning from Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), added that the amount of material "that shouldn't be classified in the first place . . . over the past year is disturbingly increasing" and that on discretionary calls he feels the government gets it wrong more than half the time.

Ms. Haave [undersecretary of defense for counterintelligence and security] also candidly acknowledged that "I do believe that we over-classify information" and she described the problem as "extensive," though "not for the purpose of wanting to hide anything." Pushed by Mr. Shays to quantify the over-classifica tion, she said, "How about if I say 50-50?"

Unnecessary secrecy erodes public confidence in government. It makes it impossible to take at face value government assertions that information is genuinely sensitive -- even when it is. And in a post-Sept. 11 world, needless secrecy is downright dangerous insofar as it prevents the open sharing of information that ought to have many different pairs of eyes examining and analyzing it.

There are a lot of problems with secrecy. An emphasis on transparency, and the absence of secrecy, encourages more accountability from our leadership, as they will not be able to hide embarrassing or criminal activities, or facts and results of their operations that are failures.

Transparency also removes the cover from which corruption and cronyism thrive. All over the world, we are infected with an epidemic of elite deviance and malfeasance, as authority figures mix between business and politics and enrich themselves at the expense of the people, their interests, and even in many cases their freedom. We are no different here in America, with cases popping up recurrently, from the BCCI episode to today's Enron and Halliburton, and though we remain open enough in America to uncover some of these things, the trend is disturbing, and, in the case of Enron, we only found out after total failure, with the complicity (absence of action) from the President (a good friend of the leader of Enron), that Enron gamed the energy crisis in California and screwed us in the immediate aftermath of Bush's election (this never would have happened on Gore's watch).

Further, our society is divided in an unprecedented, and unhealthy, way. Conspiracies and myths thrive amongst the people. A commitment to transparency and the freedom of information would go a long way to dispelling conspiracies and beginning to heal the hearts and minds of Americans, and encourage reconciliation and recognition of common beliefs, goals, and challenges again, rather than the wedge demagoguery that holds American politics hostage today, along with our hearts and minds.

From this corner, this site, this man, you will never, ever sense a hint of surrender. I am going to keep banging on the doors, and using my little axe, to free the flow of information so that it goes both ways, from the people to the state and from the state to the people, and to knock down the tall trees of corruption and cynicism that infect not only America, but the globe.