Explore Harvard's Nieman network Nieman Fellowships Nieman Lab Nieman Reports Nieman Storyboard

The secrecy logic: If everything is classified, we’ll be safer, right?

SHOWCASE | July 04, 2005

Says a government official in charge of security oversight: "I've seen information that was classified that I've also seen published in third-grade textbooks."

By Barry Sussman

Plaudits to the New York Times and its reporter Scott Shane for his account July 3rd, 2005, on the incredible, often ridiculous growth of government secrecy. Shane reported that “a record 15.6 million documents were classified last year, nearly double the number in 2001, according to the federal Information Security Oversight Office. Meanwhile, the declassification process, which made millions of historical documents available annually in the 1990's, has slowed to a relative crawl, from a high of 204 million pages in 1997 to just 28 million pages last year.”

Complaints range from across the political spectrum, including from Republicans such as Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, an ally of the Bush Administration, and independent Republicans such as Thomas H. Kean, chairman of the Sept. 11 commission and a former governor of New Jersey.

Kean was quoted as saying, "You'd just be amazed at the kind of information that's classified - everyday information, things we all know from the newspaper…We're better off with openness. The best ally we have in protecting ourselves against terrorism is an informed public."

Wrote Shane: “Others cite cases of what they call secrecy running amok: the Central Intelligence Agency's court fight this year to withhold its budgets from the 1950's and 60's; the Defense Intelligence Agency's deletion of the fact that the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was interested in "fencing, boxing and horseback riding"; and the Justice Department's insistence on blacking out a four-line quotation of a published Supreme Court decision.”

Click here for the full story.

The NiemanWatchdog.org website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.