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July 14, 2006

The Secret about Secrecy
Posted by Michael Signer

This is a day when you'd expect Democracy Arsenalists to  blog about Israel and Lebanon -- but I have nothing brilliant to say, other than that I'm worried because my little sister is there traveling and volunteering (but safely, we hope and pray, in Jerusalem), and that, like every non-expert, I'm simply concerned about radical instability erupting in a region that we've already done our part to destabilize. 

Perhaps due to the enormity of this story, the WaPo buried an important domestic story on page A19 today -- a recently-released GAO study of the Department of Defense's haphazard and too-frequent practice of classifying documents.  The story's lede:

The Government Accountability Office has criticized the Defense Department for sloppy management of its security classification system, including the marking as "Confidential or Secret" material that Pentagon officials acknowledged was unclassified information.

The GAO said in a report June 30 that one of the major questions raised by its study was "whether all of the information marked as classified met established criteria for classification." The GAO also found "inconsistent treatment of similar information within the same document."

But wait, there's more.  Call up the Keystone Kops theme music:

It notes, for example, that although different agencies have authority to classify material, there are conflicting markings in some agencies for annotating with an "R" whether a record is to be released or declassified or retained and kept classified. "One of the agencies uses a 'D' to denote 'deny automatic declassification' and an 'R' to denote release," the report says. "While the other agency uses a 'D' to denote 'declassify' and an 'R' to denote 'retain.'"

This is important stuff and the casual, even shabby treatment given classification parallels the expansive and problematic interpretation the Bush Administration has used for FOIA exemptions.  Former President Jimmy Carter recently editorialized on the 40th anniversary of FOIA:

The U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) turns 40 tomorrow, the day we celebrate our independence. But this anniversary will not be a day of celebration for the right to information in our country. Our government leaders have become increasingly obsessed with secrecy. Obstructionist policies and deficient practices have ensured that many important public documents and official actions remain hidden from our view.

Carter's point -- that we must be as careful with our secrecy practices as we are with our democracy, because the two work hand-in-hand -- is not the remonstration of a nagging-aunt figure.  It is, instead, a more fundamental reminder to a nation in the quick of a democratizing push.  We must be ever-vigilant about the rule of law, particularly now.  We must get it right here if we are to know how to get it right abroad.


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"This is a day when you'd expect Democracy Arsenalists to blog about Israel and Lebanon" Not really - as argued by Robert Wright and other - so-called progressive bloggers have been as silent and absent on this issue - similar to that of the Bush Administration. You guys should be ashamed. At least one of your partner organizations had the guts to write something -

No one blogs about Israel and Lebanon -- or Israel and Palestine -- because open and frank discussion is NOT allowed on this topic.

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