Sneaky Sneaky

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

OpenTheGovernment.org has just released a report on government secrecy. It highlights the current surge in documents the Federal government is labeling as classified, along with other examples of secrecy in our government.

Some interesting numbers were in the report. For instance, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved 1,754 orders in 2004, rejecting none. For all those not up to date, this is the Federal Court that issues physical search and surveillance warrants under the FISA Act of 1978. It is also worth noting that this court has rejected only 4 government requests for surveillance in the history of the court.

During 2004, the government classified documents 15.6 million times. The total amount of taxpayer money spent on classifying this information was an amazing $7.2 billion. Compare that to the $3.3 billion spent in 1997 and the $3.7 billion spent in 1999 to classify documents.

Another very interesting number is how many times President Bush has used the "state secrets" privilege. The overall number itself may not seem like alot but when put into perspective, it is alarming. The President has used the "state secrets" privilege 23 times from 2001 to 2005. The privilege is a result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case United States v. Reynolds from 1953. Since then, the privilege has been used 56 times not including the years 2001-2005. Again, the number may not seem like much but when you think that it is now being used 33 times more than it was during the Cold War when secrets were the fad, it comes into perspective a little.

The Federal Advisory committee Act was established to ensure that information and advice given to the various government committees, boards and task forces was unbiased, objective and open to the public. The report highlighted that of the 7,045 meetings of the Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, and The National Science Foundation, 64% of these meetings were completely closed to the public. Of the other remaining agencies, 396 or 17.7% of the total 2,237 meetings were completely closed to the public. Now that's democracy!

Overall, the report notes that the government has created 81% more secrets than it did prior to the attacks of 9/11. You may stop here and say, "well that's why- right there" However, the 9/11 commission itself recommended reducing unnecessary secrets that can clog up government response time.

How do Americans feel about this surge in secrecy? During 2004 there were 4,080,737 requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act, a 25% increase from the year 2003. Interestingly enough there were only 1,908,083 FOIA requests in the year 1999.

Maybe these are the times we live in. Secret squirrel to woodchuck...the eagle has landed. I do find it hard to believe that we need more secrets now than we did during the Cold War years. What is most disturbing is the way our government makes more and more decisions without us knowing or being allowed to know everyday. Democracy, if that is what we have, needs openness and truth in order for it to work. If not, then it becomes more and more of a totalitarian rule everyday. I guess another way to look at it would be if you were a parent. Would you keep more and more secrets from your child every day they grow or would you try to inform and educate them as best as you could and hope they make the right decision based on the facts?

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