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Thread: Obama and America’s culture of secrecy

  1. #1
    Miss Mock Out jackalope's Avatar
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    Obama and America’s culture of secrecy

    Obama and America’s culture of secrecy
    OCT 14, 2011 10:38 EDT

    Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.


    Old habits die hard. By the time you read to the bottom of this column, around 1,600 U.S. government documents and communications will have been classified in the name of national security.


    If past habits serve as a guide, many if not most of the “confidential,” “secret” and “top secret” markings will fall under the label “overclassification,” a practice that stretches back to the 1940s and has been criticized in a long string of reports by high-powered congressional commissions and academic experts.


    The latest comes from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school. It saysneedless classification actually harms national security because it acts as a barrier to the exchange of information between government agencies and corrodes democracy. “Secret programs stifled public debate on the decisions that shaped our response to the September 11 attacks,” the report notes.


    Classification forced Americans to rely on leaked documents to debate such questions as the interrogation of detainees in secret overseas prisons or the government’s eavesdropping, without warrants, on Americans’ telephone calls. “The classification system must be reformed if we are to preserve the critical role that transparent government plays in a functioning democracy,” says the report.


    It was released against the background of another debate that relies on leaks rather than a government explanation – the killing by a drone strike in Yemen of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born propagandist for al Qaeda. The same strike killed another American citizen, Samir Khan, the editor of an al Qaeda magazine. There has been no comprehensive official statement yet on the legal basis for these killings from the administration of President Barack Obama.


    On his first day in office, Obama issued a memo – much praised at the time – that said: “My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government … Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.” He followed up the pledge nine months later with an executive order that created the National Declassification Center. Its task: deal with a backlog of more than 400 million classified documents.


    And last October, the president signed into law the Reducing Over-Classification Act. Jane Harman, who at the time chaired the House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Subcommittee and introduced the bill, defined overclassification as “the practice of stamping intelligence ‘secret’ for the wrong reasons, often to protect turf or avoid embarrassment.” (The law itself does not define the term).


    So what have these steps done to change what the Brennan Center’s report calls a culture of secrecy in government agencies? So far, not much. According to the Information Security Oversight Office, the agency that oversees the security classification system, there were 224,734 “original decisions” to classify information in 2010, a 22.6 percent increase over the previous year. The number of “derivative classifications” totaled more than 76 million. (The two statistics translate into the number given in the opening paragraph of this column).



    SECURITY CLEARANCES FOR 4.2 MILLION AMERICANS


    The term “derivative classification” applies to people who have access to classified information and need to repeat it in communications with their colleagues or work of their own. How many people have access to classified information?


    The government released the number for the first time in September and it is so huge, it boggles the mind — 4.2 million, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, America’s intelligence czar.

    more: Bernd Debusmann | Analysis & Opinion | Reuters.com


    It *does* seem like way too much is classified. And like Jane Harmon said, a lot of it is probably for the wrong reasons: protect turf, or avoid embarrassment.

    The article gives another reason: stiff consequences for releasing sensitive information in error, but no consequences for 'erring on the side of caution'.

  2. #2
    Retired Sky Blocks Champion, Block Distraction Champion, Lock n Roll Champion, Flags Medium Champion, Flags Difficult Champion, Crazy Cube Champion Seraphima's Avatar
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    Someone better versed in law might correct me... but how exactly do you create a law like the Reducing Over-Classification Act and then not define what over-classification is? That seems pretty damn stupid.

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    Miss Mock Out jackalope's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seraphima View Post
    Someone better versed in law might correct me... but how exactly do you create a law like the Reducing Over-Classification Act and then not define what over-classification is? That seems pretty damn stupid.

    @cwalenta99


    As for me .... NO freaking idea. Doesn't seem like they accomplished what they set out to, tho.

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    I just noticed this. State secrets, you can't live with them, you can't live without them. Its june 5th, 1944, you publishing the details of d-day?

    Of course dday is such that we'll catch wind of it, but a lot of it we never really pay much attention to and that is where the danger lurks.

    I tend to deal in laws and the area of government where the presmption is one of openness, subject to freedom of information requests, where state law on open town meetings are held under the 'sunshine law' (meetings are said to be properly 'sunshined')

    And of course bad things still happen....but they're illegal of course! The rest of it is just a cloak and dagger world that I'm just not a part of.....

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    Miss Mock Out jackalope's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cwalenta99 View Post
    I just noticed this. State secrets, you can't live with them, you can't live without them. Its june 5th, 1944, you publishing the details of d-day?

    Of course dday is such that we'll catch wind of it, but a lot of it we never really pay much attention to and that is where the danger lurks.

    I tend to deal in laws and the area of government where the presmption is one of openness, subject to freedom of information requests, where state law on open town meetings are held under the 'sunshine law' (meetings are said to be properly 'sunshined')

    And of course bad things still happen....but they're illegal of course! The rest of it is just a cloak and dagger world that I'm just not a part of.....

    Agree on the bolded!

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