2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 19 Dec 2003 17:45:08 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Keeping Secrets
Keeping Secrets
The Bush administration is doing the public's business out of the public
eye. Here's how--and why
By Christopher H. Schmitt and Edward T. Pound

"Democracies die behind closed doors."

At 12:01 p.m. on Jan. 20, 2001, as a bone-chilling rain fell on
Washington, George W. Bush took the oath of office as the nation's 43rd
president. Later that afternoon, the business of governance officially
began. Like other chief executives before him, Bush moved to unravel the
efforts of his predecessor. Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card, directed
federal agencies to freeze more than 300 pending regulations issued by
the administration of President Bill Clinton. The regulations affected
areas ranging from health and safety to the environment and industry.
The delay, Card said, would "ensure that the president's appointees have
the opportunity to review any new or pending regulations." The process,
as it turned out, expressly precluded input from average citizens.
Inviting such comments, agency officials concluded, would be "contrary
to the public interest."

Ten months later, a former U.S. Army Ranger named Joseph McCormick found
out just how hard it was to get information from the new administration.
A resident of Floyd County, Va., in the heart of the Blue Ridge
Mountains, McCormick discovered that two big energy companies planned to
run a high-volume natural gas pipeline through the center of his
community. He wanted to help organize citizens by identifying residents
through whose property the 30-inch pipeline would run. McCormick turned
to Washington, seeking a project map from federal regulators. The
answer? A pointed "no." Although such information was "previously
public," officials of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission told
McCormick, disclosing the route of the new pipeline could provide a road
map for terrorists. McCormick was nonplused. Once construction began, he
says, the pipeline's location would be obvious to anyone. "I understand
about security," the rangy, soft-spoken former business executive says.
"But there certainly is a balance--it's about people's right to use the
information of an open society to protect their rights."

For the past three years, the Bush administration has quietly but
efficiently dropped a shroud of secrecy across many critical operations
of the federal government--cloaking its own affairs from scrutiny and
removing from the public domain important information on health, safety,
and environmental matters. The result has been a reversal of a
decades-long trend of openness in government while making increasing
amounts of information unavailable to the taxpayers who pay for its
collection and analysis. Bush administration officials often cite the
September 11 attacks as the reason for the enhanced secrecy. But as the
Inauguration Day directive from Card indicates, the initiative to wall
off records and information previously in the public domain began from
Day 1. Steven Garfinkel, a retired government lawyer and expert on
classified information, puts it this way: "I think they have an
overreliance on the utility of secrecy. They don't seem to realize
secrecy is a two-edge sword that cuts you as well as protects you." Even
supporters of the administration, many of whom agree that security
needed to be bolstered after the attacks, say Bush and his inner circle
have been unusually assertive in their commitment to increased
government secrecy. "Tightly controlling information, from the White
House on down, has been the hallmark of this administration," says Roger
Pilon, vice president of legal affairs for the Cato Institute.


 If the administration's secrecy policies have helped business, they
have done little for individuals worried about health and safety issues.
The residents of the small town of Aberdeen, Md., can attest to that. On
a chilly fall evening, some 100 people gathered at the Aberdeen
firehouse to hear the latest about a toxic substance called perchlorate.
An ingredient in rocket fuel, perchlorate has entered the aquifer that
feeds the town's drinking-water wells. The culprit is the nearby U.S.
Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground, where since World War I, all manner of
weapons have been tested.

Trigger finger.
After word of the perchlorate contamination broke, a coalition of
citizens began working with the Army to try to attack the unseen plume
of pollution moving through the ground. But earlier this year, the Army
delivered Aberdeen residents a sharp blow. It began censoring maps to
eliminate features like street names and building locations--information
critical to understanding and tracking where contamination might have
occurred or where environmental testing was being done.

The reason? The information, the Army says, could provide clues helpful
to terrorists. Arlen Crabb, the head of a citizens' group, doesn't buy
it. "It's an abuse of power," says Crabb, a 20-year Army veteran, whose
well lies just a mile and a half from the base. His coalition is suing
the Army, citing health and safety concerns. "We're not a bunch of
radicals. We've got to have the proof. The government has to be

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