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America's "Secretocracy":

Ted Gup, a professor of journalism at Case Western Reserve University, summarizes the themes of his new book, Nation of Secrets: The Threat to Democracy and the American Way of Life in today's Washington Post "Outlook" section.

Today the nation's obsession with secrecy is redefining public and private institutions and taking a toll on the lives of ordinary citizens. Excessive secrecy is at the root of multiple scandals -- the phantom weapons of mass destruction, the collapse of Enron, the tragedies traced to Firestone tires and the arthritis drug Vioxx, and more. In this self-proclaimed "Information Age," our country is on the brink of becoming a secretocracy, a place where the right to know is being replaced by the need to know.

For the past six years, I've been exploring the resurgent culture of secrecy. What I've found is a confluence of causes behind it, among them the chill wrought by 9/11, industry deregulation, the long dominance of a single political party, fear of litigation and liability and the threat of the Internet. But perhaps most alarming to me was the public's increasing tolerance of secrecy. Without timely information, citizens are reduced to mere residents, and representative government atrophies into a representational image of democracy as illusory as a hologram.

Does Gup overstate his case? Is America more a "Nation of Secrets" than other countries? Or is there a real and dangerous increase in secrecy in America? I'd be curious to hear what readers think.

Lysenko (mail):
If anything, there is in certain areas a dangerous LACK of secrecy. Here's a basic fact of life: A military cannot fight, and an intelligence community cannot operate without operational security, or OpSec, and maintaining OpSec requires secrecy whether you're concealing the nature/size/direction of troop movements for the military or keeping surveillance operations out of the newspapers to avoid tipping off the surveilled. This is true for gathered intelligence as well as your own operations. Say, for example, we have intelligence on a specific route the Iranian government is using to ship weapons and Qods Force advisors into Iraq, and TF77 (or whatever their current designation is. It was 121 and 6-26 when I last was in Iraq) sets up to ambush and seize a shipment. This is only of use to us as long as we keep its distribution limited.

What happens if/when the information is leaked to the press, REGARDLESS of whether it's by some over-eager conservative wanting to prove that Iran really -is- behind weapons smuggling, or some liberal who is opposed to military action against Iranian forces on philosophical grounds? In either case, the information is distributed, the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) picks up on it, and the route is quickly changed. No weapons seized, no Qods Force "advisors" captured, no nothing.

Without the ability to keep intelligence operations AND the information they produce from leaking to the press and the general public, they are completely useless. Now, there's always the challenge of proper distribution, as Sept. 11th proved, but there's a very real difference between making sure the right people with security clearances and need-to-know have access to the information they need in order to put the pieces together on potential attacks or other situations of interest to the United states, and publishing that information in the New York Times.

You can have your "open and transparent" society, or you can have a well-prepared military and an effective intelligence apparatus. You cannot have both, and I think most of the people who complain about the "culture of secrecy" are smart enough to KNOW that, and should go ahead and say what they really think: That the US should dismantle its intelligence community outright (as Admiral "Halloween Massacre" Turner did in one of his recent books). At least once their position is stated flat-out most people will realize how downright insane it is.
6.10.2007 5:19pm
Charlie B. (mail):
Enron was a secret only because folks committing crimes like cooking their books seldom brag about it.
6.10.2007 5:21pm
MGoBlue (mail):
long dominance of a single political party

Is he talking about the 6 years (with a one year break for the Senate) of the Republican rule? That's long? The Democrats were far more dominant in 1961-69. Does he show an increase in secrecy during that period? If not, I that cause is a little suspect.
6.10.2007 5:22pm
Hei Lun Chan (mail) (www):
I question whether secrecy is actually increasing, and Gup's article in the Post doesn't even try to argue that contention other than that the government is labeling more documents as secret.

He writes, "Ohio refuses to release the names of more than 33,000 drivers who have been convicted of driving drunk five or more times." What business is it really of anybody's who these people are? If the state has determined that these people are dangerous drivers, then the state can take away their licences either for a long period of time or permanently. But how does my ability to know the names of these people help anybody? And what about laws that release the names of convicted sex offenders? Aren't those a good counterexample of increasing government secrecy?

I'd like to see Gup debate one of those people who decry "the end of privacy" or some such in our society. Isn't secrecy just another word for privacy? Both sides can't be right, and I'm inclined to believe that both sides are overstating their case and that there's nothing to seriously worry about.
6.10.2007 5:29pm
Richard Nieporent (mail):
That was one of the most poorly reasoned articles I have read in a long time. His examples do not illustrate the point he is trying to make. What does the dumping of waste in the Potomac have to do with too much secrecy? What does his claim that there is too much secrecy have to do with airplane and skyscraper not being on the list of '"dirty" words'? What does Enron have to do with too much secrecy?
6.10.2007 5:40pm
David Matthews (mail):
Anyone who puts "The Threat to Democracy and the American Way of Life" in the title of his book is probably prone to overstating his case.
6.10.2007 5:48pm
scote (mail):

You can have your "open and transparent" society, or you can have a well-prepared military and an effective intelligence apparatus.

That is a false dichotomy. This is not a one or the other issue. There is no military reason to keep the names of your Energy Commission secret. Nor is there a military reason to keep the details of litigation settlements secret.

Pretending that all secrecy is necessary for National Security is the hallmark of of authoritarian governments. For you, Lysenko, to couch your argument in such an artificial dichotomy is highly suspect and avoids the more nuanced reality of the situation.
6.10.2007 5:57pm
Lysenko (mail):
You're not paying attention to what I wrote, scote. I never argued for keeping secrets about energy commissions or litigation settlements, nor did I say that "all secrecy is necessary for National Security". The idea of an "open and transparent society" is predicated on there being NO government secrecy. None at all, for any reason.

I'll agree that it's not an all-nothing dichotomy. The question is not "make everything classified or make nothing classified", but what I don't see from people like Ted Gup or yourself is the admission of fact that operational security and secrecy are the sine qua non of successful military and intelligence operations. And you can add law enforcement to the list as well, since without some methods to prevent surveillance efforts, CIs, and undercover operations from being known to the general public they too cease to function.

So, Scote, are you willing to admit that secrecy in some types of government operations (specifically in the realms of intelligence-gathering, military movements and strategy, surveillance and undercover work for law enforcement) is both necessary and good?
6.10.2007 6:29pm
volokh watcher (mail):
J:

I think your question is not exactly right, i.e., "Is America more a 'Nation of Secrets' than other countries?"

Shouldn't the question be, is America more a nation of secrets than is good for America, using whatever benchmark you want--such as (a) compared to 100 years ago, 50 years ago, etc., or--as you note--compared to other countries [like Red China, for example], or vis-a-vis the Constitution?
6.10.2007 6:29pm
Henri Le Compte (mail):
The problem with secrecy is, of course, we don't know what it is we don't know. I don' t know about the rest of you, but I don't particularly feel qualified to opine on this subject. The political Left in this country has made plenty of noises about the "obsession with secrecy" of the Bush Administration, but, since they also shriek about how "Bush is shredding the Constitution!!" it is hard to know how seriously to take any of it.

We are at war-- contrary to the opinions of many. Secrets are a part of that process. In addition, it strikes me as extremely unlikely that this Administration, at this time, with this DOJ, and this CIA and this FBI, would be in any way able to maintain a nefarious secret that actually threatened "our way of life." It is an absurd allegation, actually. Any such project would be leaked to the press before it escaped the mouth of its author.

The secrets out government has today are the same secrets it has always had. Look, everyone in high public office today knows that they will in all liklihood be unemployed in two years time. Do they want to leave a national disgrace and a long prison sentence behind for their successor to find? A cudgel for their partisan enemies to wield? I doubt it. I really, really doubt it.
6.10.2007 6:37pm
scote (mail):

So, Scote, are you willing to admit that secrecy in some types of government operations (specifically in the realms of intelligence-gathering, military movements and strategy, surveillance and undercover work for law enforcement) is both necessary and good?

I don't recall ever suggesting the abolition of secrecy for all millitary, intelligence and police opertations.

The question is not whether some secrecy is necessary but where to draw the line. The current administration is attempting to draw the line arbitrarily, IMO, in an attempt to hide itself from legitimate and necessary oversight. A fine example is the secret delegation of personnel authority to Monica Goodling and Kyle Sampson. There is no legitimate reason to keep the roles and responsibilities structure of the DOJ a secret from the public, congress and even the DAG! The kind of routine and presumptive declaration of secrecy used by the administration is anathema to a in informed and healthy democracy. Secrecy breeds contempt and should be granted and used as sparingly as possible.

Will you, Lysenko, admit that there is no military, intelligence or police interest in keeping the names of the Energy Commission or the delegation of authority to Goodling and Sampson secret?


The idea of an "open and transparent society" is predicated on there being NO government secrecy


Ideas are not necessarily absolutes. Find me anyone--anyone--who has argued that an "open and transparent" government means that all current military operational plans are public?

You are making a straw argument.
6.10.2007 6:47pm
JGR (mail):
This is a ridiculously sophomoric article for two reasons. 1) It tries to conflate a wide number of different and only peripherally related phenomena in order to argue one grand thesis. 2) Most of the evidence in most of the areas directly contradict the author's thesis.

Privacy - essentially the right to secrecy - is rapidly disappearing in America. Anyone who knows anything about this area knows that Europe has much stronger privacy laws than America. A few years ago, the European Union passed a resolution that it would not trade with countries that did not prevent its businesses from selling or releasing personal consumer information - it was forced to withdraw its strong protection when it discovered that the United States was an offending nation.
Italy only recently passed a strong privacy law that prevents newspapers from publishing pure gossip about a person's personal life, such as what it called "the sexual sphere". In America, such laws are routinely gutted by our courts which take an expansive view of the first amendment.
There are only six states in America that prevent a phone call being recorded without the person's knowledge. As a general rule, people can be recorded and have their image or conversation televised anytime they are on public property, someone else's private property, or even on their own property if the person is standing outside their property while recording.
Whatever one's belief on how much privacy the government should have in military situations, its secrecy has very little to do with the privacy (non-)rights of individual citizens. It is nonetheless worth pointing out that the government has considerably less of a right to secrecy than it had prior to the early seventies, when the Supreme Court upheld the right of the New York Times to publish the pentagon papers. Reporters routinely break stories that are harmful to the nation's security and fear no legal sanction. Recall that several years ago the media gleefully revealed the secret location of the Vice President's bunker if America were attacked.
Corporations have significantly less secrecy than they had prior to the internet. The author ludicrously lists illegal scandals such as Enron, apparantly implying that criminals used to brodcast their crimes in speeches.
Everything about this article is a joke.
6.10.2007 6:52pm
scote (mail):

The political Left in this country has made plenty of noises about the "obsession with secrecy" of the Bush Administration, but, since they also shriek about how "Bush is shredding the Constitution!!" it is hard to know how seriously to take any of it.

That is getting it backwards. The evidence that Bush is shredding the constitution is overwhelming. You know, the secret prisons, secret arrests, secret "enhanced interrogation" techniques, secret laws, secret warrant-less wiretaps, secret "national security letter" subpoenas, , the optional "trials" for alleged unlawful enemy combatants, secret legal rationales, the "unitary executive" theory, the new Executive Order granting the Administration marshal law authority for any of a number of vaguely defined situations that even Katrina would qualify for....

You can argue that these things are good and necessary but how you can argue with a straight face that the idea that they just might be unconstitutional is merely some sort of Liberal lunacy is beyond me.

Next, someone will argue "how could you know if it is all "secret?????"" Well, some secrets do get out. But goodness knows how many other howlers are still being kept under wraps...
6.10.2007 6:56pm
JosephSlater (mail):
We are at war-- contrary to the opinions of many.

Who are these "many" that think we are not "at war" in Iraq and at least to some extent still in Afghanistan? I know of many -- the majority of the country -- who think the Bush admin has screwed these wars up (at least Iraq), but I don't know of anybody that denies that these wars took place and are still taking place.
6.10.2007 7:08pm
scote (mail):

Whatever one's belief on how much privacy the government should have in military situations, its secrecy has very little to do with the privacy (non-)rights of individual citizens.

Au contraire, the secrecy of this government has everything to do with the privacy rights of individual citizens. This administration is using the cloak of secrecy to hide warrant-less domestic spying, use of self issued and secret "National Security Letter" subpoenas, wholesale data-mining of all citizens call records, wholesale tapping the internet backbone of AT&T--all to name just a few massive privacy intrusions.

Without transparency, there is no accountability. Without the ability to know what the government is doing, we have no way to know which of our rights are being violated nor have any way to fight against these constitutional violations. You don't have any 4th Amendment rights if you don't know you are being spied on.
6.10.2007 7:21pm
Henri Le Compte (mail):
Joseph Slater:
I mentioned that only because of a strange thread of thought that runs through the Left half of the blogosphere-- that the whole GWoT is just some sort of over-blown, "election year" type gambit.

That basic idea animates several opinions of the Left. For instance, some people are insistent that there is really no (or minimal) domestic threat to us from terrorism. The NYTimes basically refused to even cover the recent JFK pipeline plot-- because to do so would create the erroneous impression that such "plots" were something to take seriously. In the last Democratic candidate debate, Edwards repeated over and over that the GWoT was "a bumper sticker." The moderator kept trying to get him to explain what that meant, but he wouldn't. I thought it was clear that he was saying the "war on terror" is nothing, a phantasm. An advertising ploy meant only to get Republicans elected.

Half the Left in this country wants to keep up the emotional pretense that 9/11 didn't happen, or, if it did happen, it didn't really mean all that much. If you are disagreeable enough to keep bringing it up, they will explain how the whole "thing" is "just over-blown," and besides, "it never would have happened if Bush wasn't such an idiot." Denial, mixed with hubris, and anxiety= "all our problems are imaginary, and will be soon disposed of by a Democrat in the White House."

scote: I imagine that you will agree that all the "problems" you cite will be soon disposed of by a Democrat in the White House, no? So, unless you think that Republicans will hold the WH forever, you have little to fear!
6.10.2007 7:47pm
JGR (mail):
Scote,
Perhaps I should have qualified my comment with a "Just- to-avoid-be-quoted-out-of-context" type of comment. Obviously, I would agree that the transparency of the government is an important element in privacy areas where the government is the one violating your privacy. (Only an idiot would deny that.)
While limitations on the government are probably the most important topic of discussion for many of the commenters, it is only one part of the article. My point was that this has little to do with the numerous other privacy issues between private actors that the author tries to conflate into one grand theory or trend - Because the government is reading your email, Enron was secretive about its scandals, and secrecy is increasing everywhere.
6.10.2007 7:50pm
JGR (mail):
Oops - the preceding sentence should have read "because the government is SECRETLY reading your email.."
6.10.2007 7:56pm
scote (mail):

scote: I imagine that you will agree that all the "problems" you cite will be soon disposed of by a Democrat in the White House, no? So, unless you think that Republicans will hold the WH forever, you have little to fear!

Yeah, unconstitutional warrant-less domestic spying in violation of FISA is just a little "problem." Would you still have no "problem" with these violations if there were a Dem in the whitehouse illegally and unconstitutionally spying domestically on a wholesale level?

This shouldn't be a partisan issue, unfortunately the Republican Party has turned its back on the idea of smaller, less intrusive government and taken up the mantle of authoritarianism. It isn't a matter of a Democrat being in the Whitehouse, it is a matter of responsible and effective oversight--something that isn't possible when the Administration claims to have unitary authority to ignore any law it thinks "violates" the President's "Commander In Chief" powers--and claims that its legal interpretations to this effect are privileged!!!!
6.10.2007 7:59pm
Mark Field (mail):

In the last Democratic candidate debate, Edwards repeated over and over that the GWoT was "a bumper sticker." The moderator kept trying to get him to explain what that meant, but he wouldn't. I thought it was clear that he was saying the "war on terror" is nothing, a phantasm. An advertising ploy meant only to get Republicans elected.


I think you understood Edwards correctly. His contention is that it's not logically possible to wage war against "terror" -- that's a concept, not a thing. The fact that he challenges the Administration's framing, though, doesn't mean he denies that troops are engaged in combat.
6.10.2007 8:12pm
Lysenko (mail):
Joseph Slater: Who are these "many that think we are not "at war"

These are just two very quick examples. A review of op-ed pieces and books published over the last few years will net you dozens, if not hundreds more, but to start with:
Robert Dreyfuss - There is no War on Terror
The Guardian - There is no War on Terror

Scote: Find me anyone--anyone--who has argued that an "open and transparent" government means that all current military operational plans are public?

William Arkin. Gee, that was easy.

Add to that Adm. Stansfield Turner who argued in "Burn Before Reading" that the CIA should be disbanded, its analysis functions parceled out to other agencies, and its ability to engage in classified operations ended entirely, and I don't think I'm making anything like a straw-man argument. YOU may not personally advocate the ending of all government covert operations and of our policies regarding government secrecy, but plenty of other people making the same arguments you're making about the current administration do.

Now, are you willing to answer the question that I put to you, rather than evading with a question of your own (though I will say that in the case of the DOJ I see no immediate need for secrecy when it comes to personnel decisions)?
6.10.2007 8:28pm
scote (mail):

I think you understood Edwards correctly. His contention is that it's not logically possible to wage war against "terror" -- that's a concept, not a thing.

I'd say its a tactic. But my point is the same as yours. You can't wage war on a tactic. You can't have a "War on Pincer Movements" or a "War on Retreats."

The idea that we can win a "War on Terror" is nonsense. You can't eliminate a tactic. We can fight various terrorist groups, however, and fight to improve our international respect and support in this endeavor.
6.10.2007 8:32pm
e:
Those who think previous administrations didn't engage in covert operations are kidding themselves.

Seems like the "story" is falsely combining national security and private enterprise. Curiosity is a great trait, but an effective military force needs secrecy not just for current ops. Intel relies on open source info. What might seem innocuous can be merged to reveal a big picture of tactics, practices, and strategies.

In the private realm, I suppose I'll have to read the book to see if there are really sound argument for getting rid of incentives to research and develop new products, and cheaper litigation through confidential settlement between private parties. Yes, none of your business is sometimes still a proper response (though admittedly not frequently in the gov't's case).
6.10.2007 8:33pm
scote (mail):

Now, are you willing to answer the question that I put to you, rather than evading with a question of your own (though I will say that in the case of the DOJ I see no immediate need for secrecy when it comes to personnel decisions)?

I didn't evade your question. I answered it:

"The question is not whether some secrecy is necessary but where to draw the line."

That means I don't question the need for some secrecy, only where we should draw the line. I don't know why you try to claim I was being "evasive." I would appreciate it if you would check your facts before making accusations.

Now as to the people you say support a zero secrets policy, I'll have to research their views before I can make an informed response.
6.10.2007 8:42pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
This piece gives a good idea why working newspapermen never pay any attention to professors of journalism.

I can only speak for the last 40 years, but I've never had another newspaperman cite a journalism professor's 'research' on any topic.

There's unquestionably a lot less government secrecy and a lot less personal privacy than there was when I started in 1966. I like most of what JGR said about that.

The lesser government secrecy is almost all good. The area where I am most troubled is Family Court.

It used to be that we could find out a lot about individuals' private business if it had gotten sticky enough for the courts to have to intervene. Now we can learn virtually nothing. Either way presents problems and dangers, and I have no suggestions what to do about it.

Privacy seems to have been stood on its head, both legally and socially from what it used to be. Again, good and bad.

It caused quite a scandal 20 years ago when I was the first reporter in the state to use the word 'condom' in a news story. Nowadays we run stories about anal sex on page one. Who woulda predicted that?
6.10.2007 8:52pm
laywoman (mail):
To answer the original question, based on what I know of information suppression by French, German and British governments, no - I do not believe the US is more a nation of secrets than other countries. Far from it.

What makes things so pernicious in much of western Europe is the role of several governments as part owners of major media outlets. The French government is a particularly egregious suppressor of information in the French press, but there are other good-old-boy networks between press, corporate and government officials in Belgium and elsewhere as well.
6.10.2007 8:56pm
SFBurke (mail):
The idea that we as a nation our become more secret seems bizarre. None of the examples mentioned are things that would have been public a few decades ago. In fact, the proliferation of basic technologies like photocopying, e-mail, fax, the internet etc. has made it much harder to keep a secret.

I think there is a view on the left that the Bush administration is keeping secrets because there has been a definite attempt by the administation to control the message and the information the press receives. While this has offended some in the press, it is not clear that there is anything wrong with it. Given the hostility and the bias the press shows, it is not surprising that the administration works to present a clear message.

If anything it would be nice if the press would be a little bit more careful about keeping secrets. I still don't understand why the NYT felt a need to publish an article about the U.S.'s monintoring of international banking transactions. Nobody contended that there was anything wrong or illegal in those actions but by writing the story the NYT ensured that it would become ineffective.
6.10.2007 9:29pm
Montie (mail):

Shouldn't the question be, is America more a nation of secrets than is good for America, using whatever benchmark you want--such as (a) compared to 100 years ago, 50 years ago, etc., or--as you note--compared to other countries [like Red China, for example], or vis-a-vis the Constitution?


While the US has more "official" secrets now, I think it is hard to argue that the government is any more secretive now than it was 50 or 100 years ago. The press at those times was lap-dog while now it is attack-dog.

A little overy one hundred years ago, true extent of Phillipine-American War (and even refused to call it a war) was largely kept from the American people even though the troops and the casualties were comparable to the current war in Iraq.

A little over fifty years ago, numerous secrets were kept from the American people ranging from the Manhattan Project to atrocities of Stalin (e.g., the Katyn Massacre).

So, in my opinion, it is highly unlikely that the US is more secretive now than it was 50 or 100 years ago.
6.10.2007 9:34pm
scote (mail):

So, in my opinion, it is highly unlikely that the US is more secretive now than it was 50 or 100 years ago.


Do you think that the names of the Energy Commision would have been secret 100 years ago? Delegation of personnel authority to Goodling and Samspon's? The legal opinion on the signing statements?

I think you may be confusing "not widely disseminated" with officially secret.

And what about secret indefinite detentions? Those are new.
6.10.2007 9:39pm
Montie (mail):

Do you think that the names of the Energy Commision would have been secret 100 years ago? Delegation of personnel authority to Goodling and Samspon's? The legal opinion on the signing statements?

I think you may be confusing "not widely disseminated" with officially secret.


I think that you are splitting hairs here. Official secrets are a function of the risk of being widely disseminated. In the end, I really doubt that there is less


And what about secret indefinite detentions? Those are new.


Secret detentions are not new. Indefinite detentions are not new. I don't know about the mix of the two.

Anyway, I would question how secret and indefinite the current detentions are.
6.10.2007 10:28pm
Hei Lun Chan (mail) (www):
scote, are you saying that the examples you cite are even remotely comparable to the examples Montie cites?

We know much more about our government than we did 50 or 100 years ago, whether important or mundane. I mean, come on, back then we didn't even know that our president was a cripple. Now we find out when they fall down stairs in golfers' homes or choke on pretzels.
6.10.2007 10:30pm
Montie (mail):
Oops make that:

In the end, I really doubt that there is less access to information now.

I would also add that FDR was hardly a champion of openness. For example, he basically secretly conspired with Churchill to help the UK during WWII in direct violation the law and despite his public promises to keep the US out of foreign wars.
6.10.2007 10:45pm
A.C.:
A lot of government functions can't work at all if the agencies involved can't keep secrets. Think of all that information we all send to the IRS. Or business information that has to go to regulators, but that could be very damaging if it fell into the hands of the competition. Forget the intelligence and military stuff, which is secret for obvious reasons -- I would bet that the bulk of "secret" government information is of this nature. And I, for one, want it to stay secret, even from other federal agencies. I don't want IRS records used for immigration enforcement, for example. I do want stricter immigration enforcement otherwise, but not at the cost of having law enforcement looking at everybody's tax returns.
6.10.2007 11:07pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Much of the time, the term "secret" is added to a report of something quite open, probably--almost certainly--to ratchet up the ominosity quotient.

The Enron case was interesting. You might say that only a few were knowledgeable of the situation. But. At one time, the boys set up a fake trading floor with a hundred work stations where the cube-dwellers were barking out buy and sell orders to...each other. It was solely to impress some visiting potential investors.

Nobody spilled the beans. Right. Of a hundred people. I'd like to get the business reporters and editors of Houston in a room and spike the coffee with sodium pentothal.
6.10.2007 11:43pm
c.gray (mail):

Do you think that the names of the Energy Commision would have been secret 100 years ago?


If by "Energy Commision"(sic) you mean the people Cheney and his aides met with who might have influenced the Energy Task Force Report a few years back, then yes, pretty much. There was no legal basis to force the President or Vice President to release the names of people who gave them advice on any particular topic. There could not even have been litigation on the matter before FACA, which only came into existence in 1972.


This administration is using the cloak of secrecy to hide warrant-less domestic spying.


/shrug

I keep seeing references in the moonbat-o-sphere to this "warrantless domestic spying," but I have yet to read about a single concrete example that involves anything other than accessing call data record information. Of course this call record information by its very nature is NOT private, since it must be shared by every telecom service provider between the call originator and the call recipient, none of whom agree to keep the information confidential.

You can repeat these accusations of illegal domestic spying endlessly, but that will not make the accusations true. Maybe you should dig up an actual _example_ of such spying before claiming that Bush is the gravest threat to the US Constitution in history.

Seriously, though, its hard to get agitated about this stuff. I heard the same kind of complaints about imminent military coups from right-wing nutjobs when Clinton was in office, and didn't believe it then, either. Back then it was Black Helicopters, now its the Unitary Executive. I feel like one of the villagers in the "Boy Who Cried Wolf."
6.11.2007 2:13am
Fub:
Johathan Adler wrote in original post:

Does Gup overstate his case? Is America more a "Nation of Secrets" than other countries? Or is there a real and dangerous increase in secrecy in America? I'd be curious to hear what readers think.
The questions are too broad for simple answers. That is, compliance with applicable FOIA or open records laws varies among federal government, states, departments of goverment, nature of information sought, etc. The devil is in the details.

One circa 9/11 appraisal of state governments' FOIA and open records law compliance was conducted by the Better Government Association, founded 1923, and reported in 2002 by the Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc., founded 1975. The summary state-by-state "report card" is here. Because the study was conducted circa 9/11, it could serve somewhat as a baseline for Prof. Gup's post-9/11 explorations.

For example, Prof. Gup's WAPO article, presumably referring to post-9/11 secrecy, states:
That same excessive secrecy is reflected in the states. Sensitive to issues of privacy, Ohio refuses to release the names of more than 33,000 drivers who have been convicted of driving drunk five or more times. Last year, two Ohio college students were killed by a driver on his way to his 12th drunk-driving conviction. The casualties of such secrecy play out in state after state.
Yet in BGA's circa 2001-2002 appraisal of state FOIA compliance, Ohio rated a "D" on an ABCDF scale. So, Prof. Gup's Ohio example does not appear to be particular to a post-9/11 increase in secrecy.

Regardless of what might be criticized about BGA's methodology, their results show that states had a great variance in their responses to FOIA or public record requests circa 9/11/01. A similar current survey would shed some light on Prof. Gup's hypothesis that secrecy has increased since 9/11.
6.11.2007 3:14am
Fub:
I would add that I agree with Prof. Gup's criticism of reclassification of previously unclassified or declassified material. Reclassification is at best silly, and worse an invitation to officials with darker motives to obfuscate or eliminate history they find politically or personally inconvenient.
6.11.2007 3:27am
scote (mail):

Anyway, I would question how secret and indefinite the current detentions are.

Really, name everyone who is being secretly held and how long the government intends to hold them.

You can argue that that is unknowable, but you can't argue that they don't claim that power. They did it unilaterally and now It's in the MCA.


I keep seeing references in the moonbat-o-sphere to this "warrantless domestic spying," but I have yet to read about a single concrete example that involves anything other than accessing call data record information.

You are forgetting the US/international warrant-less spying and the US/US collateral spying that resulted and the US/US via Canada traffic that was caught. Plus the wholesale NSA AT&T fiber tap, the increased use of National Security Letters, and all the stuff we don't know about. Moonbat-o-sphere? Wouldn't it be nice if all those spying programs were imaginary. Too bad they aren't.


I mean, come on, back then we didn't even know that our president was a cripple. Now we find out when they fall down stairs in golfers' homes or choke on pretzels.

Yup, now we know all sorts of irrelevant trivia about the president but we weren't supposed to know who had hiring authority at the DOJ. Big improvement.
6.11.2007 4:14am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Do you think that the names of the Energy Commision would have been secret 100 years ago?
Uh, yes. What basis do you think there would have been for trying to force the vice president to reveal it? You know there were no FOIA laws back then, right?
6.11.2007 4:53am
Houston Lawyer:
I believe that it is harder now to keep secrets than at any time in the past. Also, the improper use of email allows the the exposure of a lot of things we would like to keep secret or at least be able to deny.
6.11.2007 11:47am
JosephSlater (mail):
So, saying that some folks think we're not "at war" basically refers to some folks who have questioned whether there can be a "war on terror," given that "terror" is a tactic.

Prior to 9/11, I wonder if some Americans refused to believe we were "at war," despite the "war on drugs" and "war on poverty."

Seriously, what we have is a disagreement about tactics in fighting some obviously pretty bad guys. Given the way Iraq is going, I'm not sure Bush supporters have the better of the argument re tactics.

To try to relate this to the actual point of the thread, it's probably prudent to be skeptical about "secrecy" demanded by a war with no particular defined enemy, terroritory, or end.
6.11.2007 12:53pm
TDPerkins (mail):
Scote wrote:

The evidence that Bush is shredding the constitution is overwhelming. You know, the secret prisons


There has never been any protection in the Constitution for un-uniformed enemy agents in time of war, seized abroad, and held abroad, but what may be binding in a treaty. No such treaty priveleges AlQaeda's adherents from such a prison, so their existence is no slight to the Constitution.

secret arrests


Those would be unconstitutional if they were used to effect domestic law enforcement--but no such thing is happening--they are being used to prosecute a declared foreign war; something well in keeping with martial law, if it were to come to that, and it hasn't.

secret "enhanced interrogation" techniques


And however distasteful, they are perfectly constitutional, as they are being carried out against unlawful combatants taken overseas, not on American soil, and who have by their being unlawful combatants placed themselves outside the protections afforded by treaty to POWs, The constitution applies to how the US governments treats US citizens and persons accused of crimes on American soil. It has I think never been applied the catholic manner you seem to desire.

secret laws


Regulations and procedures which are enabled to be secret by a statute can be secret--however, no statutes are secret.

secret warrant-less wiretaps


There have been no such wiretaps, and learning of who called who when--absent any attempt to record the contents of the call as opposed to the origin and destination, is perfectly legal.

secret "national security letter" subpoenas


Which I believe are (A) being challenged in the courts, and (B) could only be unconsitutionally used in theory, but using such information to further war plans without affecting domestic law enforcement is AOK.

the optional "trials" for alleged unlawful enemy combatants


And since when do we give combatants taken in war trials in the civilian courts? Never yet, I think.

secret legal rationales


To the extent a secret legal rational is uniquely applicable to some uncommon technology, or uncommon use of technology, and the rationale is argued before the statutorily relevant courts intended to hear such cases, where is the problem, unless it is with (and currently does remain) with Congress?

the "unitary executive" theory


To the extent the constitution vests all executive power in the President, it is utterly unitary--the executive branch takes it orders from 1600 PA AVE. If Congress has problems with that it is free to freeze/direct spending and to legislate to the contrary. In any case, the SCOTUS will hear and dispose of a case as it wills. Where is the threat to the balance of powers?

the new Executive Order granting the Administration marshal law authority for any of a number of vaguely defined situations that even Katrina would qualify


Which would be different from the 100 odd EOs granting FEMA martial law powers in the event of a sufficient disaster how? I don't like them, but they are nothing even slightly new or even slightly unique to Bush.

In fact, the government has just been strictly prohibited from disarming the populace during such a disaster--so things have substantially improved on his watch in this regard.

Your, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
6.11.2007 3:27pm
scote (mail):

TDPerkins (mail):
There has never been any protection in the Constitution for un-uniformed enemy agents in time of war, seized abroad, and held abroad, but what may be binding in a treaty. No such treaty priveleges AlQaeda's adherents from such a prison, so their existence is no slight to the Constitution.

Yeah, actually you are ignoring the Padilla case and the MCA.

Padilla is a US Citizen arrested on US soil. The administration secretly arrested him and held him without charges. They later revealed his arrest for political advantage, not because they admitted any need for disclosure. They latter transfered custody to a civilian facility to avoid a constitutional showdown at the Supreme Court.

The Military Commissions Act allows the administration to declare anyone an unlawful military combatant without right to Habeus Corpus.

The rest of your detailed responses are equally disingenuous.
6.11.2007 4:41pm
Smokey:
When Ted Gup declares, ''the phantom weapons of mass destruction...'', he completely discredits himself.

Members of Congress and other Administration officials have seen the most highly classified reports regaring Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, and have commented publicly as follows:

''[W]e urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.''

-- From a letter signed by Dianne Feinstein, Tom Daschle, &John Kerry among others on October 9, 1998

AND:

''This December will mark three years since United Nations inspectors last visited Iraq. There is no doubt that since that time, Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status. In addition, Saddam continues to refine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a licit missile program to develop longer- range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies."

-- From a December 6, 2001 letter signed by Bob Graham, Joe Lieberman, Harold Ford, &Tom Lantos among others

AND:

''Whereas Iraq has consistently breached its cease-fire agreement between Iraq and the United States, entered into on March 3, 1991, by failing to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction program, and refusing to permit monitoring and verification by United Nations inspections; Whereas Iraq has developed weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological capabilities, and has made positive progress toward developing nuclear weapons capabilities''

-- From a resolution submitted by Tom Harkin on July 18, 2002

AND:

''Saddam's goal ... is to achieve the lifting of U.N. sanctions while retaining and enhancing Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs. We cannot, we must not and we will not let him succeed.''

-- Madeline Albright, 1998

AND:

''Saddam will rebuild his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and some day, some way, I am certain he will use that arsenal again, as he has 10 times since 1983''

-- National Security Adviser &Convicted National Securties Thief Sandy Berger, Feb 18, 1998

AND:

''Iraq made commitments after the Gulf War to completely dismantle all weapons of mass destruction, and unfortunately, Iraq has not lived up to its agreement.''

-- Barbara Boxer, November 8, 2002


AND:

''The last UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in October of 1998. We are confident that Saddam Hussein retained some stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and that he has since embarked on a crash course to build up his chemical and biological warfare capability. Intelligence reports also indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons, but has not yet achieved nuclear capability.''

-- Sen. Robert K Byrd, October 2002


AND:

''There is no question that Saddam Hussein is a threat. Yes, he has chemical and biological weapons. He has had those for a long time. But the United States right now is on a very much different defensive posture than we were before September 11th of 2001. He is, as far as we know, actively pursuing nuclear capabilities, though he doesn't have nuclear warheads yet. If he were to acquire nuclear weapons, I think our friends in the region would face greatly increased risks as would we.''

-- Weasley Clark on September 26, 2002

AND:

''What is at stake is how to answer the potential threat Iraq represents with the risk of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Baghdad's regime did use such weapons in the past. Today, a number of evidences may lead to think that, over the past four years, in the absence of international inspectors, this country has continued armament programs.''

-- Jacques Chirac, October 16, 2002

AND:

''The community of nations may see more and more of the very kind of threat Iraq poses now: a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists. If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow.''

-- President Bill Clinton in 1998

AND:

''In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well affects American security.''

-- Sen. Hillary Clinton, October 10, 2002

AND:

''I am absolutely convinced that there are weapons. I saw evidence back in 1998 when we would see the inspectors being barred from gaining entry into a warehouse for three hours with trucks rolling up and then moving those trucks out.''

-- President Clinton's Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, in April of 2003

AND:

''Iraq is not the only nation in the world to possess weapons of mass destruction, but it is the only nation with a leader who has used them against his own people.''

-- Sen. Tom Daschle in 1998

AND:

''Saddam Hussein's regime represents a grave threat to America and our allies, including our vital ally, Israel. For more than two decades, Saddam Hussein has sought weapons of mass destruction through every available means. We know that he has chemical and biological weapons. He has already used them against his neighbors and his own people, and is trying to build more. We know that he is doing everything he can to build nuclear weapons, and we know that each day he gets closer to achieving that goal.''

-- John Edwards, Oct 10, 2002

AND:

''I share the administration's goals in dealing with Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction.''

-- Dick Gephardt in September of 2002

AND:

''Iraq does pose a serious threat to the stability of the Persian Gulf and we should organize an international coalition to eliminate his access to weapons of mass destruction. Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to completely deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power.''

-- 'Fat Albert' Gore, 2002

AND:

''The debate over Iraq is not about politics. It is about national security. It should be clear that our national security requires Congress to send a clear message to Iraq and the world: America is united in its determination to eliminate forever the threat of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.''

-- John Edwards, Oct 10, 2002

AND:

''We are in possession of what I think to be compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein has, and has had for a number of years, a developing capacity for the production and storage of weapons of mass destruction.''

-- Bob Graham, December 2002

AND:

''Saddam Hussein is not the only deranged dictator who is willing to deprive his people in order to acquire weapons of mass destruction.''

-- Jim Jeffords, October 8, 2002

AND:

''We have, ah, known for many years that Saddam Hussein is, ah, seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction.''

-- Ted Kennedy, September 27, 2002

AND:

''I will be voting to give the president of the United States the authority to use force - if necessary - to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security.''

-- John F. Kerry, Oct 2002

AND:

''There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein's regime is a serious danger, that he is a tyrant, and that his pursuit of lethal weapons of mass destruction cannot be tolerated. He must be disarmed.''

-- Ted Kennedy, Sept 27, 2002

AND:

''The threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real, but as I said, it is not new. It has been with us since the end of that war, and particularly in the last 4 years we know after Operation Desert Fox failed to force him to reaccept them, that he has continued to build those weapons. He has had a free hand for 4 years to reconstitute these weapons, allowing the world, during the interval, to lose the focus we had on weapons of mass destruction and the issue of proliferation.''

-- John Kerry, October 9, 2002

AND:

''We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandates of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them.''

-- Sen. Carl Levin, Sept 19, 2002

AND:

''We need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime. We all know the litany of his offenses. He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation. And now he is miscalculating America's response to his continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction. That is why the world, through the United Nations Security Council, has spoken with one voice, demanding that Iraq disclose its weapons programs and disarm. So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real, but it is not new. It has been with us since the end of the Persian Gulf War.''

-- John Kerry, Jan 23, 2003

AND:

''Every day Saddam remains in power with chemical weapons, biological weapons, and the development of nuclear weapons is a day of danger for the United States.''

-- Joe Lieberman, August, 2002

AND:

''Over the years, Iraq has worked to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. During 1991 - 1994, despite Iraq's denials, U.N. inspectors discovered and dismantled a large network of nuclear facilities that Iraq was using to develop nuclear weapons. Various reports indicate that Iraq is still actively pursuing nuclear weapons capability. There is no reason to think otherwise. Beyond nuclear weapons, Iraq has actively pursued biological and chemical weapons. U.N. inspectors have said that Iraq's claims about biological weapons is neither credible nor verifiable. In 1986, Iraq used chemical weapons against Iran, and later, against its own Kurdish population. While weapons inspections have been successful in the past, there have been no inspections since the end of 1998. There can be no doubt that Iraq has continued to pursue its goal of obtaining weapons of mass destruction.''

-- Patty Murray, October 9, 2002

AND:

''As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I am keenly aware that the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons is an issue of grave importance to all nations. Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.''

-- Nancy Pelosi, December 16, 1998

AND:

''Even today, Iraq is not nearly disarmed. Based on highly credible intelligence, UNSCOM [the U.N. weapons inspectors] suspects that Iraq still has biological agents like anthrax, botulinum toxin, and clostridium perfringens in sufficient quantity to fill several dozen bombs and ballistic missile warheads, as well as the means to continue manufacturing these deadly agents. Iraq probably retains several tons of the highly toxic VX substance, as well as sarin nerve gas and mustard gas. This agent is stored in artillery shells, bombs, and ballistic missile warheads. And Iraq retains significant dual-use industrial infrastructure that can be used to rapidly reconstitute large-scale chemical weapons production.''

-- Ex-UN Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter in 1998

AND:

''There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years. And that may happen sooner if he can obtain access to enriched uranium from foreign sources -- something that is not that difficult in the current world. We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction.''

-- John Rockefeller, Oct 10, 2002

AND:

''I don't think there can be any question about Saddam's conduct. He has systematically violated, over the course of the past 11 years, every significant UN resolution that has demanded that he disarm and destroy his chemical and biological weapons, and any nuclear capacity. This he has refused to do. He lies and cheats; he snubs the mandate and authority of international weapons inspectors; and he games the system to keep buying time against enforcement of the just and legitimate demands of the United Nations, the Security Council, the United States and our allies. Those are simply the facts."

-- Henry Waxman, Oct 10, 2002

AND:

''Saddam's existing biological and chemical weapons capabilities pose a very real threat to America, now. Saddam has used chemical weapons before, both against Iraq's enemies and against his own people. He is working to develop delivery systems like missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles that could bring these deadly weapons against U.S. forces and U.S. facilities in the Middle East.''

-- John Rockefeller, Oct 10, 2002


So, when Mr. Gup talks about ''the phantom weapons of mass destruction...'', he has forfeited credibility. He's tried to wing it -- but this is the age of the internet; you'd better have credibility, or you come off as a chump.

Disregard Gup, unless you want to operate based upon false information.
6.11.2007 4:54pm
TDPerkins (mail):


Yeah, actually you are ignoring the Padilla case and the MCA.


Not at all. It is more true to say that the SCOTUS's majority opinion wrt Padilla reflects a disdain for that body's previous decision in Ex parte Quirin than that I am ignoring Padilla or the MCA.

And the MCA certainly comes under the authority the Congress to make the regulations for the armed forces and is not unusual in times of war, so what point do you think you have?

You might want to reply to some of my other counterpoints too, in fact, all of them, if you want your statement:

"The evidence that Bush is shredding the constitution is overwhelming."


Not to seem very silly.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
6.11.2007 5:07pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Smokey.
You have absolutely no empathy. Such a spoilsport.
Shame on you.
6.11.2007 7:24pm
Davod (mail):
I would say secrecy has increased since 9/11. There is nothing nefarious about this. When your are fighting two wars and trying to stop atacks inside the US secrecy is bound to increase.

The fellow travellers have returned and they are more pernicious than ever.
6.11.2007 7:44pm
TDPerkins (mail):
The fellow travellers have returned and they are more pernicious than ever.


It's even worse than that, they don't even want to get to remotely the same place, and they're helping AQ out.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
6.11.2007 9:52pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Limbaugh today had a long speech by Gore insisting on Saddaam's manifold crimes, including possessing WMD and excoriating Bush I for not doing something. It was during a presidential campaign long ago.
6.12.2007 4:37pm
c.gray (mail):

You are forgetting the US/international warrant-less spying and the US/US collateral spying that resulted and the US/US via Canada traffic that was caught



Uh...no forgetting here. I just happen to remember that this sort of NSA activity, spying on non-domestic targets that occasionally intercepts call traffic into the USA, has been going since the NSA was founded. This kind of signal analysis and interception was, in fact, the reason the NSA was created. And the NSA has been around a lot longer than the Bush administration.

Or were Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush the Elder and Clinton all busy shredding the constitution, too? It's a f$%^-ing wonder any copies are left, eh?

Moonbat-o-sphere seems the appropriate term to me. If you want me to use a different term, give me the NAME of somebody who was unlawfully spied on and an example of the personal information unlawfully obtained by the Fearsome Bush Dictatorship. You can't though, because all you've got is a bunch of half-assed long distance bill data-mining. Credit card companies do more invasive things to everyone's transaction data on an hourly basis. Hell, Amazon does a more detailed scan of my personal life every time I hit their website.

I'm going to go back to waiting for the Black Helicopters to usher in a UN dictatorship. At least the Right Wing dingbat hallucinations are actually frightening.
6.12.2007 5:00pm