Bush administration fetish for government secrecy

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It has been broadly noted by political observers, journalists and rights advocates that the Bush administration has increased the secrecy of government operations, as part of the "War on Terror" and in other areas.

Observations of increases in secrecy

Many political observers, journalists and rights advocates have noted the Bush administration's penchant for secrecy and the irony of this tendency, given its push (via the USA PATRIOT Act and other initiatives) to widen the government's ability to spy on its citizens and others around the world:

  • A Buffalo News editorial on January 6, 2004 said that:

"Concealing information has become an option of first resort... More than any presidency in memory, Bush's has what can only be called a fetish for government secrecy. Whatever justifications there may be for this predilection - and there are some - Bush's love of secrecy does much more harm than good, in the end, to the fabric of a democracy. Long after he is gone from office, this change in public policy will be a black mark on his administration.

"The threat of terrorism is real enough that protection of certain sensitive information is undoubtedly wise, but the truth is that the administration signaled its devotion to secrecy the afternoon Bush was inaugurated. That was when it froze more than 300 pending Bill Clinton administration regulations, then went about undoing them without seeking any public comment. The reason: public comment would be 'contrary to the public interest.'

"Among the abuses U.S. News points out is the denial of information to a former U.S. Army Ranger who wanted information about a planned high-volume natural gas pipeline through the center of his community. To help organize citizens, he sought information about the project from the federal government, which denied the request. Although it was previously public, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission claimed that disclosing the route could make the line a target for terrorists. But as the former Ranger pointed out, once construction began, the route of the line would be common knowledge anyway. That makes the denial of public information seem more like an effort to shield the project from public scrutiny.

"As the late New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed many times, secrecy... may serve the electoral needs of politicians, who can more easily shield themselves from criticism, but it undermines the Constitution and the country those politicians have sworn to protect."[1]

  • In the December 23, 2003, edition of the Washington Post, Dana Milbank pointed out that under the Bush administration, secrecy was "expanding."

"Last Monday, the Supreme Court announced it would consider an effort by Vice President Dick Cheney to keep private the records of the energy policy task force he ran. On Friday, the White House announced that it has known for two weeks about an attack on a convoy carrying Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer -- but had decided not to divulge the information. Later that day, President Bush announced a disarmament deal with Libya reached during nine months of secret negotiations. Also last week, it emerged that the government was acting to keep more Pentagon information out of the public domain and that it has removed from the U.S. Agency for International Development web site remarks by an administration official that had badly understated the cost of Iraqi reconstruction.

In the meantime, however, the chairman of the federal September 11, 2001, commission, in remarks released last week, criticized needless government secrecy... The administration has been unusually successful keeping its policy deliberations out of public view, and millions of government documents - including many historical records previously available - have been removed from the public domain. Steven Aftergood, who directs the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, says it is nothing less than a 'mutation in American politics' away from open government. 'There is an unwholesome change in the deliberative process unfolding before our eyes,' he said. 'These are not technicalities. These are fundamental issues of American government that are now up for grabs.' "

  • A November 2004 report authored by Congressman Henry A. Waxman accused the Bush administration of a "systematic effort - to limit the application of the laws that promote open government and accountability," adding it has "sought to curtail public access to information while expanding the powers of government to operate in secret." [1]
See also: Bush administration financial misconduct and lack of accountability
  • Writing about the more trivial manifestations of the Bush administration's secrecy in April 2004, The Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank wrote that the White House has refused to confirm meetings with foreign dignitaries, domestic trips, overseas diplomatic appointments and T-ball games announced by others. The reluctance of the administration to comment on the substance of a phone call between Bush and Russian President Putin already discussed in the Russian press led Milbank to observe: "It may come as a surprise to some that the Kremlin, symbol of secrecy and repression, has become more transparent than the White House, symbol of freedom and democracy. But such experience has become routine -- so routine, in fact, that Agence France-Presse White House correspondent Olivier Knox has proposed a slogan for the Bush team: 'When we have something to announce, another country will announce it'." [2]
  • Also in April 2004, a new coalition called Open the Government [2] formed to combat secrecy at all levels of government. Under the banner "Americans for Less Secrecy, More Democracy," journalists, librarians, labor activists, environmentalists, government watchdog groups and others announced the formation of the coalition by releasing a list of their "ten most wanted" documents. [3][4]

Taguba Report

The classification of the Taguba Report "may have violated official secrecy policies, which prohibit the use of classification to conceal illegal activities." [6]

Articles and resources

See also


  1. "Governmental Secrecy," Buffalo News, January 4, 2004.
  2. Dana Milbank, "From the White House, With Silence," Washington Post, April 20, 2004. See also "The Sounds of Silence," PRWatch.org, April 20, 2004.

External resources

External articles and commentary