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Warning: Lawbreaker At The Keyboard

Sep
1
2006

Secrecy and a free, democratic government don’t exist. – Harry S. Truman

There are so many choices it’s like being in a candy shop. What public information about the government can President George W. Bush now turn into secret information so that an uninformed citizen will be forced to an even greater degree than is presently the case?
In March it was disclosed that Mr. Bush’s acolytes were wandering about the National Archives in Washington selecting documents that had been sitting on the shelves for years, available to all casual and serious browsers, and marking them “classified”. As a result of the exercise, documents that had been resting harmlessly in the National Archives found themselves removed from the shelves, taken to dark places and turned into secrets.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act suit brought by the Associated Press and a nonprofit research group, the National Archives admitted that it was taking public documents off the shelves and reclassifying them “secret.” According to Dale McFeatters of the Scripps Howard News Service, before its actions were discovered, the National Archives had reclassified some 10,000 documents containing more than 55,000 pages. The reclassified information went “from information about 1948 anti-American riots in Colombia to a 1962 telegram containing a translation of a Belgrade news article about China’s nuclear capabilities.”
What made the endeavor even more exciting was the fact that not only were new secrets being made out of non-secrets, but their creation was secret. But all that is old news published here and elsewhere. Now we have new news. The process is the same, the object of Mr. Bush’s attention has changed.
According to a report from The National Security Archive, a research institute at George Washington University, the Pentagon and the Energy Department – two agencies with time on their hands,non? – have begun stamping as national security secrets, information that has been in the public domain for decades. It seems only fair to warn my readers at this point, that if they continue to read this column they may find themselves complicit in a criminal act which the publication of this column is today but would not have been two months ago. That is because I am going to tell you what the National Security Archive has published on its website. I won’t tell you everything – just enough to transmogrify me from harmless lawyer and columnist into terrorist determined to bring down the Bush administration.
According to the National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 197 (and the parenthetical portion is where you must shut your eyes to avoid complicity): “Pentagon and Energy officials have now blacked out from previously public charts the numbers of Minuteman missiles (1,000), Titan II missiles (54), and submarine-launched ballistic missile (656) in the historic U.S. Cold War arsenal even though four Secretaries of Defense (McNamara, Laird, Richardson, Schlesinger) reported strategic force levels publicly in the 1960s and 1970s.)”
Deciding what to black out was a Herculean task but the Department of Energy was up to it. According to the Archives, the Department went through 204 million pages of documents at a cost of $22 million and ended up reclassifying 6,640 pages at a cost of $3,313 per page.
What is really neat about this project is that it is going to open up a whole new group of people to criminal prosecution. No longer does one have to be a “terrorist” or “enemy combatant” to get the Justice Department’s attention. As the Security Archive’s director Thomas Blanton explains: “The government is reclassifying public data at the same time that government prosecutors are claiming the power to go after anybody who has ‘unauthorized possession” of classified information.
Had I written this column two months ago with these same (parenthetical) numbers in it Mr. Bush could not have done anything about it since I was simply disclosing what everyone already knew. By reclassifying it, however, the publication now makes me a criminal since I am publishing information that – in an Orwellian sense – no one “knows” about since it’s classified. That’s not the only penalty here. As Mr. Blanton says “accountability in government” also suffers. That is of no concern to Mr. Bush who thinks presidents are accountable to no one and proves himself right on a daily basis.
Footnote: Last week, I described the plight of the Uighurs who have been transported to a virtual prison in Albania having been released from Guantánamo Bay Dentention Center. In response I was contacted by Kayum Masimov of the Uyghur-Canadian Association who said it had tried to intercede with the Canadian government in Ottawa on behalf of the five detainees and 17 others. Their mission was to no avail. Canada, like the United States, does not want to offend China even if “human rights” demand it.

Share  Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 12:27 PM | Permalink

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