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Secrecy for Thee, Not for Me!

This is what really fricking annoys me. Our dear National Intelligence director seems to have revealed more about the program and FISA wiretaps in one interview than the New York Times has revealed in three years of reporting. I’m sure our friends on the other side will justify this as a political defense of the program.

But our National Intelligence Director just revealed more important and substantive Information than those the Republicans have accused of treason! Recently, Washington Post correspondent Ted Gup wrote a book which this article contains excerpts from, entitled Nation of Secrets: The Threat to Democracy and the American Way of Life. Both contain a brilliant quote from John Kennedy's National Security Advisor, McGeorge Bundy.

If you guard your toothbrushes and diamonds with equal zeal, you'll probably lose fewer toothbrushes and more diamonds.

Secrecy is often a currency of strength in government, depriving opponents of the opportunity to interfere in policy, to take advantage of situatiions. Of course, the government can also hid its screw-ups and its failures, at least temporarily. No other administration, not even the Nixon White House has been so obsessively secret.

It can get real silly, actually. This adminstration is actually trying to classify information of such a kind that it's impossible to keep it a secret for long It's allowed a kind of message discipline that's just plain absurd. One example: Nobody within the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency (NHTSA), including the Communications office (!) is allowed to go on record with reporters. Only the head of the agency is permitted to do this, and she dodged the reporter covering the story on why she made this policy!

In a number of cases, this secrecy actually gets in the way of security. Advised against approaching Nuclear Power plants under threat of being forced down by jets. One problem: the locations of the plants were made secrets! When the pilots successfully used public domain information to get around this, the government asks them to take it down, saying that it would help the terrorists find targets. Another article exposes a truly pointless example of classification: the blacking out of parts of the transcript of a nationally televised hearing

It's the least we can expect from a President who sent his Gubernatorial papers to his father's library to keep them out of the public record. People have literally written books about the extremes this administration has gone to drag much of what had been public domain, and much that people can piece together or observe for themselves, into the dark vaults of secrecy.

The irony is, the secrecy Bush is encouraging is the same kind which helped the terrorists successfully attack us on 9/11. The hoarding of secrets becomes part of the Washington bureaucratic operations, a way to disadvantage rival agencies, to cover up for deficient enforcement, information systems integration, and policy results. It was the failure to share information between agencies, to share things like the terrorist watchlist, to expose critical deficiencies in our security apparatus that allowed the terrorists many of their opportunties to strike.

We've all seen the reports, though where folks can walk onto chemical plant property and wander for many minutes, even hours without being confronted. We all know how far this administration has fallen short on gaining the information on what's coming into this country.

But even as the dark, stifling cloud of secrecy settles on much of our government, there's a lot of data being given out by the administration that it really shouldn't be making available. McGeorge Bundy's apt quotation about guarding your toothbrushes and diamonds with equal zeal becomes ever more relevant. It's not just Mike McConnell's rather detailed laying out of the details of the FISA program, or the undoubtedly famous Valerie Wilson affair, with top administration officials leaking the identity of a covert agent and thereby compromising an entire CIA operation. It's also Republican Congressmen who give away sensitive operational information. It's an administration, which discloses sensitive nuclear weapons information in the process of trying to prove that Iraq had a serious weapons program before the war. It's an administration, which while currently foaming at the mouth to prevent Iran from going nuclear, actually handed them much of the information they needed in a botched intelligence operation

This administration used secrecy measures to hide from congress critical reservations that the intelligence community had about the WMD capacity of Iraq. It's used secrecy to cover up one set of misdeeds after another. The standard operating procedure after an embarassing episode is not to improve matters, but instead to cut down on the freedom of those involved to relate the truth to others.

True enough, there are times where secrecy is crucial, essential, to our government's securing of this nation. Unfortunately, this administration has made indiscriminate secrecy its policy, and that is the worst way to keep secrets. First, there's an economy to secrets: the more you keep, the more time, money and effort it takes to keep them. For some, it's simply not practical, others, quite impossible. There's also the processing and the bureaucracy required to restrict and grant access.

Reporter Ted Gup, in his book, makes the point that keeping too many insignificant secrets reduces the value given to that secrecy. If banal, pointless, and widely available information is treated like gold in Fort Knox, it saps the resources, the disicipline and the respect for the truly valuable secrets that is essential for preventing their leakage or compromise to the enemy.

Most of what this government learns, we should be able to learn ourselves. After all, we're footing the bill, and it's our interests they've been promising to take care of. The Bush Administration, with its proprietary attitude towards the power we gave it, is one of the worst offenders in history as far as secrecy goes. It is not coincidence that it's been one of the most corrupt, antagonistic, and politically corrosive administrations as well. One of the biggest handicaps the Republicans have had during the past few years is that they do not know what they'll be asked to defend next. The morale of that party has been eaten away by the political need to defend their parties unbelieveable screw-ups, many years in the making. The Republican party has paid for its secrecy and its incurious attitude towards government with its power.

And that will be the way things happen. The government that can run most openly, which can be responsive and interactive with its constituents, without being fearful of its disclosures, is the one which will find itself least in conflict and greatest in respect with its voters. A government that uses secrecy to maintain political power and advance ideological agendas is one that will put itself in conflict with others and itself, and proceed to make things worse. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and our government needs a good scrubbing.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at August 24, 2007 11:03 AM
Comments
Comment #230552

I’d say something, but it’s classified.

Good post, Stephen.

Posted by: mental wimp at August 24, 2007 1:34 PM
Comment #230562

Stephen:

You are right. I know from having worked in defense that the vast majority of secret documents should not be secret. As a result true secret information is not treated as carefully as it should be.

Security suffers.

Posted by: Paul Siegel at August 24, 2007 2:25 PM
Comment #230565


This reminds me of the time O Reily had two Bushy former generals on. They spent the first half of the show codemning the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal for revealing that the U.S. military had drawn up contingency plans for an Invasion of Iran. They spent the second half of the show revealing that plan in great detail, complete with a color map of Iran showing all of our militaries targets.

NYT, WSJ—— the U.S. has a plan

FNC—— here’s the plan.

Posted by: jlw at August 24, 2007 2:41 PM
Comment #230568

I know how you feel about what has gone on from day one of the take over of our country by the bush crime family. What bothers me the most is that every one just let them walk right in and take over without even a tiny bit of resistance. I have known a lot of people just like the members of the bush crime family. These people are convinced that there is not an honest way to make money or accomplish any task. Everything you do must be done in some dishonest underhanded way. If you have this type of thought pattern you can not let others from outside your crime family know what you are doing behind closed doors. Very little of their ruthless activities have made it out into the light of day. We do not know about much of what has gone on behind closed doors. You can not run this type of an operation and not have to hide every move you make.

I have tried to think of one single thing that has been done by these criminals that has turned out to be a good decision that would in anyway benefit this nation as a whole. It looks like their only purpose was to take over our government and raid the treasury department, kill thousands of people and steal their resources. I do think the 9/11 incident was seen by bush as a gift from his god. I do not think they could have done the amount of damage they have done to our country and the world with out this event. They have played the fear card on every scam they have tried to run. The day of 9/11 they must have been jumping for joy knowing what they could get away with playing the fear card. We do not know half of what these traitors have done to us behind our backs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Outraged at August 24, 2007 3:10 PM
Comment #230574

I went to the Navy Nuclear Power School when i was younger (much younger) and remember having to stamp “Top Secret” on all of the BLANK notebook paper that I took into school. I have always had images in my mind of the TONS of blank paper in storage somewhere.

Posted by: Richard at August 24, 2007 4:40 PM
Comment #230578

Outraged, the Bush administration and Congressional Republicans have made a number of good decisions. Follow through and implementation may not have kept pace with the decision, but, good decisions have been made. Cutting taxes in 2001 to cut short the tech. bubble caused Recession, was a good decision. Reform of the welfare system to incentivize work for benefits, was a very good decision. Invading Afghanistan and removing the Taliban host governance for al-Queda was resoundingly approved by the American people.

It’s not that hard to find good decisions and policy shifts. Follow through on some of those decisions were less commendable, that is true. But objective assessment demands acknowledgment that not all Republican or Bush decisions have been at odds with the interests and benefit of the nation.

Posted by: David R. Remer at August 24, 2007 5:04 PM
Comment #230582

David R. Remer-
1) Tax Cuts:Rarely demonstrated to be the economic movers that Supply Siders make them out to be. In this case, the beginning of a structural deficit, and a series of other tax cuts that contributed additional shortfalls.

2)Taliban:
A bit of a no-brainer for mainstream politicians. The follow through, though should have been a no brainer as well. Instead of staying and building Afghanistan up again, they neglected it, and now all our efforts are in danger of being in vain.

The worst thing is that Republicans aren’t learning from these failures. They’re entrenching their ideology, kicking everything into a loop, and taking the rest of us with them.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at August 24, 2007 5:19 PM
Comment #230583

Stephen, you are addressing the follow through and aftermath of ending the recession resulting from the tax cut decision made in 2001. And that is fine and I agree with your assessment. But, if your comment was intended to imply that the tax cuts on capital gains and potential investment incomes during the recession of 2001 was a bad decision, I would counter with my belief that there isn’t a Democratic candidate currently running that would not have enacted the same or similar decision in 2001.

Posted by: David R. Remer at August 24, 2007 5:23 PM
Comment #230584

Stephen D. said: “The worst thing is that Republicans aren’t learning from these failures. They’re entrenching their ideology, kicking everything into a loop, and taking the rest of us with them.”

Yes, and their party is paying the dearest of all prices for it. I read yesterday that the Republican Congressional Committee is bankrupt, with about 1.4 million in cash and 4. something million in debt obligations. Republicans, just 15 months from election, can’t raise enough money to pay for their debts let alone fund campaigns for their House of Representatives incumbents and non-incumbent candidates.

The House was where Republicans thought they had a chance just several months ago, of recovering from the 2006 elections. But, that hope is vanished as of the FEC filings for this last quarter, which also shows Democrats raising money hand over fist for House races.

Posted by: David R. Remer at August 24, 2007 5:28 PM
Comment #230587

Too many things are secret. Many times the bureaucracy classifies otherwise innocuous information simply to make its life easier and avoid criticism. That is not a Bush thing.

Security can easily trump all other concerns. This also is not a Bush thing. We have Dems in congress demanding we screen cargoes and work toward a zero mistake society. This also is not a Bush thing.

The bad guys use public sources and the Internet. Unfortunately, some are good at it. I do not propose that we close off all sources. What does annoy me is when NYT reporters do all the spade work in revealing programs and methods in order to stick it to the president and/or sell papers.

The problem we all have with secrets is that something can be seen as important only in retrospect. Nobody seriously considered the possibility that some guys with box cutters could hijack jets and crash them into buildings. Now it seems so self evident that we cannot believe nobody “connected the dots”. This is always as it is AFTER THE FACT.

The person protecting secrets has the task of knowing in advance what parts of the puzzle are imporant or even if there IS a puzzle. In times of perceived high risk, they err on the side of caution. In times of perceived safety, they err on the other side. When a shift in perception happens, the decisions look stupid.

Posted by: Jack at August 24, 2007 5:52 PM
Comment #230589

Nice try, Jack, but regarding the hijacking planes and flying them into buildings, there was a PDB whose title was almost exactly that. It was roundly ignored by the President and the National Security Advisor. Their explanation? “Nobody told us what to do about it.” (!!?!?!?)

Posted by: mental wimp at August 24, 2007 6:16 PM
Comment #230598

Jack, Bush has pushed the practice to the breaking point for the American public. That fact is historically verifiable back to the Nixon and Reagan years when similar secrecy practices resulted in scandals and controversy, (Watergate, and illegal Arms for Hostages deals).

Posted by: David R. Remer at August 24, 2007 7:04 PM
Comment #230602

Stephen,

Good article and an excellent “sampling” of this “top secret” administrations abuses. What irks me is the fact that no one’s been able to do anything about it. OK, Feingold proposed censure but where was the support even for that? I mean it really only amounted to issuing a warning ticket for drunken reckless driving anyway, but we Dems couldn’t even muster the guts for that.

Just color me disgusted. I am convinced more so than ever that Bush & Co. are seriously dangerous and in Bush’s case in particular I think “dangerously delusional” is an accurate, and possibly kind, description.

Posted by: KansasDem at August 24, 2007 7:45 PM
Comment #230611

Jack-
If you think the Bush administration is not uniquely secretive, read John Dean’s Worse than Watergate. Secrecy in the Bureaucracy is nothing new, but the extent to which Bush has pushed it is truly breathtaking.

Democrats are not pushing for a zero-mistakes society, and it’s funny that you should characterize things that way, given Bush’s surplus of errors. Methinks you’re getting defensive. The New York Times reporters are doing their jobs, looking into these stories. The funny thing is, you guys complain that revealing the existence of these programs is doing the country’s security harm, and then turn around, as Mike McConnell has done, and reveal details that seem the kind that really would matter.

You guys don’t seem to judge secrecy that well. If somebody can easily use open source information or just a walk on by the site to find something, it’s not a secret, and we shouldn’t go through a wasteful effort of trying to make it so. It’s only a secret if nobody knows, and you can control the information.

As for conclusions reached after the fact, the overall scenario of 9/11 was relatively novel, but different parts of it were not, and were anticipated in advanced. We knew of a previous plot involving using an airliner. We had been attacked on our home soil before. Airliners had been hijacked before. The strength of cockpit doors had been an issue, as were concerns about terrorist watchlists- and of course the World Trade Center was a target once before, and could be again.

You didn’t necessarily have to anticipate every element of 9/11 to prevent the plot from succeeding. These people were not perfect, and did not get by without making errors or being flagged by security. You can’t anticipate individual events every time, but since there are critical control points in every flight, most individual air travellers will pass through roughly the same points. You don’t need to connect all the dots, just recognize a problem more often than not when you see it, and make it more difficult for these people to carry out these attacks thant its worth to them.

Deciding what to keep secret is by no means simple, but you can start from a few simple rules of thumb: Like, if it’s been on broadcast television, or has been published, or otherwise sent into the public domain, it’s not secret. Or if it can easily be figured out by information in the public domain, it’s not a secret. As difficult as it is to make the call as to what should be secret, it is not unwise to keep as few secrets as one can, since secrecy itself adds inefficiencies to any operation. Unnecessary secrecy in a law enforcement or homeland defense agency can make security more difficult. Unnecessary secrecy in an intelligence operation can compromise the quality of analysis. Unnecessary secrecy in a bureaucracy can reduce accountability and hide waste.

Where we can do without secrecy, we should. It’ll maket it easier to keep the secrets we need to keep, and harder to hid inefficiency, incompetence, injustice, and corruption behind closed doors.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at August 24, 2007 8:55 PM
Comment #230613

KansasDem- Not to be to disgusted just yet. Since
President Bush an his crew, are like many others, in
that what they say or have the press leak out, is
not all that significant. The question all critical
thinkers must do is to put their heads together an figure out
the real reason behind their actions. Held within all this information or misinformation lays something they want to hide, or give them the the,”I
told everyone that information, has already been
discussed.” As you can see, the administration has a ring in the nose of all Republicans an some
Democrats, an trying to ring more Dem’s. if possible. Only a few Republicans on occasion will
vote against the President at all times.
Type in {ECHELON} on Google, that will give you
a place to help refresh your memory of what the
McCarthy period was like. You may even find answers to facts from spin. It is all about CONTROLL.


Posted by: -DAVID- at August 24, 2007 9:22 PM
Comment #230626

Jack as for not knowing about flying a plane into buildings was so far fetched it was only in a TOM CLANCY novel. If its in a writers who has had over 3 of his novels turned into movies you would think that someone would look into it. Hell this guy practically is a PR prince for the CIA, FBI and Counter-Ops with his books. Hell he even included my sister unit from Florida in his Clear and Present danger book. Yeah can’t happen it was only in a 10+ week best seller.
Sorry Jack I cant buy the spin I am falling down its going so fast.
Do you happen to have a bridge in Broklyn (sp) for sale?

Posted by: timesend at August 25, 2007 12:10 AM
Comment #230638

Andy Rooney has a great take on government security classifications…he thinks that if every secret ever held by our federal government had been openly shared with any intity desiring the information, we’d be a stronger nation today, and would have been in less wars. If you think about that deep enough, it becomes more and more logical. Our country doesn’t need secrets to keep us strong, it just needs honor…we’ve got a lot of secrets…

Posted by: Marysdude at August 25, 2007 4:11 AM
Comment #230644

Stephen,

Here’s something that should help your blood boil:

Iraq corruption whistleblowers face penalties
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20430153/

I’m sort of reminded of an exchange between Jon Stewart and the author of the book “Cheney” (his name escapes me) recently on the Daily Show. Stewart mentioned something along the line of “being accused of treason” for disagreeing with this administration and the guest-author of course denied such a thing has ever happened.

Well, as you point out, if it’s the WaPo or the NYT sharing the illegal misdeeds of Bush & Co. with the American public they sure as hell have been accused of treason. From the referenced MSNBC article it’s obvious that what should be regarded as acts of patriotism are instead punished with demotion or firing at best, and with imprisonment and torture at worst.

And some people think Congressional Democrats are holding too many hearings? I’d say we’re not holding enough hearings.

Posted by: KansasDem at August 25, 2007 10:11 AM
Comment #230648

KansasDem-
Actually, if the program is legal (that means constitutional, not merely backed statutorially), I don’t really want to know much. I respect secrecy when it comes to operations. I just don’t think the mention of the program’s mere existence, in a day and age where electronic surveillance is likely to be expected, constitutes an excessive disclosure, especially when it’s illegal.

But that stuff in that article? I don’t know why the Republicans will not admit what that obviously means: such corruption is poison to any war effort. They should be the ones clearing this crap out, leading the charge to purify the system. The fact they let things go on is one of the many reasons people consider their support for the troops skin deep, nothing better than political support for the president. How can these people let the military and the American people down in so many ways on this war when they are so dedicated to winning it? My blood isn’t exactly boiling; I guess I’m a little jaded when it comes to the outrages of this war. But this seems sadly par for the course with the Bush administration.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at August 25, 2007 12:06 PM
Comment #230653

Steven,
One problem with keeping secrets - eventually they can get tangled up with other secrets.

Bush is not the only one who seems to like keeping secrets, although he does seem to be pretty good at having some of them “leaked” .

There should be a some sort of agreement about what needs to be classified.

There should also a time limit for getting “Secrets”

IE. The Kennedy Assignation records, ALL of WWI and WWII documents.

I don’t totally understand the need to keep these items secret anyway.

Posted by: Linda H. at August 25, 2007 12:59 PM
Comment #230654

Pardon - I meant “…time limit for keeping “Secrets”.

Sorry

Posted by: Linda H. at August 25, 2007 1:02 PM
Comment #230664

Stephen and Linda H., the inherent liability for secrecy is that it appears to take far, far less resources, time, and effort to just keep secrets secret in perpetuity. Calendaring secrets for disclosure, requires enormous manhours, money, and political expertise to go through secret materials to be disclosed to determine how such revelations can harm a party politically, legacies of officials otherwise revered, and the always present precarious act of revealing just how sneaky and deceptive the American government is capable of being, which can cause adversaries recognizing past capability, to take extra measures in future endeavors, whether those adversaries are the American public or foreign enemies.

Secrecy comes with large costs. The best policy is to minimize the need for secrecy from the outset, reserving it for only the most absolute essential national security purposes. But, when one has to cover political acts in secrecy due to the perceived need to protect one’s power, that rule becomes very difficult to adhere to.

Hence the addage, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Posted by: David R. Remer at August 25, 2007 3:20 PM
Comment #230701


We are going to get a giant dose of the Administrations hypocrisy on secrecy. It seems that they are going to launch an all out assualt, a Surgekrieg against the opposition to the war, the majority of the American people. The Surgekrieg will be conducted live from the War Room. The official explanation for setting up the war room is to collect information from Iraq, which is 8 time zones away, into a central location where it can be released to the media in a more timely fashion.

My guess is that the Adminsitration will release more of the so called aiding the enemy information than all the so called enemy’s within put together. Of course, the difference will be that all of the information released during the Surgekrieg will have been declassified by the V.P.

Posted by: jlw at August 26, 2007 12:27 AM
Comment #230702

Based on my own life experiences and my limited knowledge of history one thing stands out:

The need to silence any opposition!

This administration is not only secretive, they are propagandistic. They’re more than willing to violate our nations laws if it benefits them, and perfectly willing to jail and/or torture those who seek to expose them for what they are.

Stephen’s link to Kansas’ Senator Pat Roberts “loose lips” incident should be enough in and of itself to prove bias regarding the exposure of “secrets”. Facts have now become secrets if the facts are harmful to the administration.

OTOH just consider Bush’s last speech to the VFW in KC. He’s become so used to lying that inaccuracy is inconsequential.

Facts don’t matter anymore!

Truth is now defined by the government!

I honestly wonder if Bush has ever heard of the Khmer Rouge or Pol Pot! I suspect he only watched the movie.

Posted by: KansasDem at August 26, 2007 12:35 AM
Comment #230703

jlw,

I fear you’re right!

Posted by: KansasDem at August 26, 2007 12:37 AM
Comment #230708

KansasDem- I believe you are correct. I also believe
the Bush Administration believes in Chaos, and
Propaganda. They prosecute Whistle Blowers an allow
outdated so called secrets, by a few well placed
Republicans. They also use the terror alerts in
order to create turmoil for the purpose of convincing the general public that they,”the people”
are in imminent pearl of some kind. I believe
the Bush Administration is using propaganda similar
to that of the Nazi’s to some degree, as the engine
to this wayward, deviant, Controlled behaviour.
Give some thought to what the Republicans [are not saying, may offer a more honest opinion.] I believe
every one has the right to an opinion, but no one
has the right to misrepresent the facts deliberately, Spin, lies, an some times ignorance is not an excuse an is too often over looked or
even tolerated all to often. Dishonesty in communications should always be challenged in a
tempered manner when possible.

Posted by: -DAVID- at August 26, 2007 2:13 AM
Comment #230832

Stephen, terrific article. Five stars.
Great points being raised all around in this thread, too.

Posted by: Adrienne at August 27, 2007 6:14 PM
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