The Fourth Eye

The End of Secrecy

Doyle, K. (1999). “The end of secrecy: U.S. national security and the imperative for openness.” World Policy Journal [H.W.Wilson – SSA] 16(1): 34.

After all, what did the Cold War teach us, if not the fundamental instability of closed regimes?

  • “A system of security was first devised in the crucible of the Second World War was not dismantled after the troops came home.  It took root and grew.” P. 34
  • “It served to hide not only the individual misdeeds and misadventures of successive administrations but also the rational behind them.” P 34
  • “secrecy spread its shadow over the crafting of foreign policy, the building of weapons, the birth of entire government agencies, the spending of federal funds, and inevitably, the play of public debate.
  • There was resistance, they demanded information, lawsuits, ‘in an effort to pierce the veil that separated the public from its government.’ Including FOI regime
  • “As the end of the Cold War came to an end…Openness became a cause; accountability a movement… librarians and archivists, academics and historians, scientists, jurists, Republicans and Democrats, human rights activist and members of the defense and intelligence establishments – joined in the call for the end of secrecy.
  • “This new and unusual constituency, forged in the wake of half a century of covert operations, black budgets and information controls, should not be thought of as a coalition, since it by no means represents uniform political goals.
  • Bipartisan Moynihan Commission, “It is time for a new way of thinking about secrecy”
  • Resistance as ridicule – weather reports produced by an aide to Eisenhower during the war were classified 30 years after the fact.
  • Volume and cost is not funny, 17,000 documents stamped classified every year.
  • Estimated that in 1997 4.1 billion was spent on security classification
  • How to explain this orgy of classification?
  • How to explain the destruction of documents, like the MKULTRA program that for 20 years ran behaviour experiments on unwitting human subjects? CIA destroyed them in 1973 or the documents destroyed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the wake of Watergate – records of all meetings going back to 1947, which the National Archives didn’t know about until 1993.
  • FOI profoundly dysfunctional, a bureaucratic civil disobedience, lacking filing systems, archivally impairment, delaying tactics and wielding exemptions.
  • “All three branches of government bear responsibilities for the failures of public access.
  • The Second World War was the original spring from which secrecy flowed.
  • Speaker of the House Jim Wright remarked in frustration about secrecy of NSC decisions, “Congress cannot react responsibly to new dictates for national policy set in operation by the executive branch behind closed doors.
  • The NSA was a massive intelligence gathering entity designed to intercept electronic communications worldwide. Its basic charter was classified when it was written and remained secret for decades after. Although its primary target was the Soviet Union, the NSA was also obsessed by the enemy within, and spent its first two decades spying on Americans by intercepting their telegrams and telephone conversations.
  • In 1951, Truman followed the recommendation of an NSC committee by issuing a sweeping executive order that redefined the scope of the governments classification system. The president’s order, written without reference to constitutional or statutory authority, extended classification standards that had protected military information since before the war to include the records of any and all civilian agencies that had a hand in “national security” matters.
  • The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 invented the concept of “restricted data” a classification system entirely separate from the secrecy regime that applied to the rest of the federal government.
  • 1950 Truman’s NSC advised that “any publicity factual or fictional, concerning intelligence is potentially detrimental to the effectiveness of an intelligence activity and to the national security.
  • The CIA act of 1949 etended sececy to the budget
  • Congress passed the 1950 COMINT law which criminalized the publication of information “concerning the cryptographic and communication intelligence activities of the United states”
  • 1959 the NSA Act gave blanket exemption to the NSA,
  • So without legal means, the public and press was “forced to rely on leaks, mishaps and selective disclosures for an occasional glimpse into the hidden work of government”
  • Efforts to block publication of the Pentagon Papers caused a shift in public perceptions about secrecy – America was angry at what it was learning about itself through the Church Committee, leading to the FOI amendments that empowered the judiciary to challenge government on suppressing information
  • Carter issued a new executive order on national security information rested on premise of disclosure rather than denial. P 40
  • The reform was “dazzling by brief.” P40
  • In 1982 Reagan signed 12356 renouncing Carters pledge of openness
  • Clinton called for a review of this order, asking that “US Classification policy be ‘in line with the reality of the current, rather than the past, threat potential. He went on to declassify large document collections, on El Salvador, secret material from the WWII to the Vietnam War – the single biggest declassification in US history – including the satellite imagery from past intelligence reconnaissance missions be reviewed for relies, as well as the DoE human radiation experiments, on nuclear tests, plutonium stockpiles, confirming the public’s worst nightmare about excessive government secrecy.
  • We learned that the Atomic Energy Commission in 1947 wrote, “It is desired that no document be released which refers to experiments on humans and might have an adverse effect on public opinion or result in legal suits.”
  • DoE was different to other intelligence agencies. “Born in secrecy, they not only struggle with increasingly skeptical public – which no longer believes their sweeping claims of the need for secrecy to protect national security.” They were left to police themselves. VENONA came out – carefully selected and expensively bound – and on 11 operations over 30 years old.
  • “Selective historiography”…brilliant public relations snow job” openness was a carefully nurtured myth. The CIA used its mandate to protect “intelligence sources and methods” as an iron shield against disclosure”
  • “And so it goes with most disclosures from the CIA: unless they are voluntary, they have to be forced from the agency through leaks, legal action, or scandal.
  • “James Clapper, 1995, “It is my firmly held conviction that if there is to be real, significant change in the Intelligence Community, it will have to come from without. Not within. Because having recently been part of it, I don’t believe that the Community in and of itself is capable of fundamental reform.” House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, The Intelligence Community in the 21st Century: Hearings 104th, 1st Sess., November 16, 1995, p. 317
  • 1995, Clinton signed 12958, first post Cold War directive on overall classification of US national security information. It didn’t have the public interest balancing test that the Carter version did. The order also set up an Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, which reversed 80% of records withheld by agencies reviewed. Combined with the earlier releases, 400 million pages released.
  • “But popular pressure remains the single most effective weapon against the Frankenstein of excessive security.
  • An appropriate balance between openness and secrecy in national security matters requires
    • Presumption of openness,
    • A public interest balancing test
    • Outside review
  • “After all, what did the Cold War teach us, if not the fundamental instability of closed regimes?” p. 49

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