Secret Lovers


On the op-ed page of yesterday's New York Times, Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) argue that government secrecy is out of control, with decisions about what material should be classified often based on ass covering rather than national security. "Thomas H. Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 commission, said that three-quarters of the classified material he reviewed for the commission should not have been classified in the first place," they write. "The National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office reported 14.2 million classification actions for 2003--more than double the number recorded 10 years earlier." Lott and Wyden's proposed solution: "an independent national security classification board" that "would have two tasks: first, to review and make recommendations on the standards and processes used to classify information for national security purposes; and second, to serve as a standing body to act on Congressional and certain executive branch requests to re-examine classification decisions."

Matt Welch comments on the Bush administration's penchant for secrecy in the August/September issue of Reason.

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  1. Shannon, I don't think that is relative. Imagine the question.."you are a victim in a crime, but I can't charge the perp, till I know if you thought this was a crime for a good or bad reason." Speculation concerning the public state of mind is not an arguement. Many people get thier ideas in many ways, good and bad.

    Nope, for me, it was when the rules themselves (for instance many air travel rules themselves) became classified. ie, we can ask for your ID based on Fed rules, but we cannot tell you what those rules are.
    We will have a no fly list, but we won't tell you who is responsible for it, nor we will tell you how to apply the constitution (via redressing of greivances if mistaken info ends up on it).

    But even so, there is a paper trail a mile long to show that Bush is the most secretive president in a long time. And if you are pro-leninist as I know you are, that's a good thing. But not for the rest of us.

  2. This story is as old as the hills. I've seen complaints like this going back to when I was in junior high & I fully expect whenever I die there'll be someone somewhere complaining about government secrecy (or there not being enough of it).

    I don't see how there can even be one good solution. It seems to me this is one of those things in life where you have a constant tug-of-war to keep things in balance, and no matter what approach you take, problems are going to arise.

  3. As Edward Teller said, WMD and secrets are too important for governments to possess.
    Only citizens should be allowed.

  4. I think a new bit of red tape could certainly do our intelligence community a lot of good. They've been moving at almost a snail's pace for decades. We should bring them to a standstill while they wait for a committee to verify and change all of their standards for secrecy.


  5. Yeah, because Zeus knows they've been doing such a good job under the current no-accountability rules.

  6. I'm concerned that the CIA's activitis will be slowed down if they spend less time classifying harmless information.

    I just wanted to see that written out.

  7. The question is: How objective and uninterested would this panel be, and how could one assure their impartiality?

    (ok, that was two questions)

  8. The question is: How objective and uninterested would this panel be, and how could one assure their impartiality?

    (ok, that was two questions)

  9. Not that it really invalidates their basic argument but Thomas H. Kean isn't exactly an expert on intelligence. His bio list no intelligence or national security experience whatsoever. I don't think Kean is really in a position to judge what should and should not be declassified.

    I think this is a general problem. Most people get their unconscious model of intelligence from fictionalized accounts. In fiction, a critical piece of information is always a desecrate item like a specific document or photograph. In the real world, intelligence is seldom discrete but arises from analysis of a blizzard of seemingly trivial and unrelated bits of information.

    People who think of critical information as discrete see little problem with declassifying everything that isn't directly related to the secret. People who work in intelligence are very resistant because they know that seemingly innocuous and minor bits of information can be combined to form a coherent picture. It is also very difficult to know what an enemy will find telling because it is very difficult to understand what the enemy knows that you don't.

    Using classification as CYA has long and ignominious history but there are valid reasons for keeping a lot seemingly trivial information secret.

  10. Trent Lott has always been a bigoted, self-serving, reactionary, mean-spirited s.o.b. But ever since the White House made him step down from the most powerful position in the Senate (to the third or fourth most powerful position in the Senate), he's been a bigoted, self-serving, reactionary, mean-spirited s.o.b. who calls 'em like he sees 'em, even if means making troubled for his party and the administration. I've gotta respect that.

  11. Shannon,

    As someone who lived in NJ during the reign of Kean, I can tell you that the words 'Kean' and 'intelligence' have about as much connection as 'Clinton' and 'marital fidelity.' If he were more financially conservative, he might have been a Rockefeller Republican.

  12. joe,
    I gotta respect your calling a spade a spade when it comes to Trent Lott.

  13. Many years ago, as a junior US military officer, I had a "secret" clearance, as we all did. Occasionally, I'd actually see a document marked secret. Each time I did, I recall thinking--excuse the "fog of war" here--where's the steenking secret on this piece of paper?

  14. Undoubtedly, most 'classified' documentation is done as a CYA project rather than for any substantive national security reason.

    I just don't know how you change that. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

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