The Memory Hole Gets Deeper

The legacy of the Bush administration may turn out to be that its greatest contribution to American productivity is its unparalleled production of secrets. It has long been readily observed that BushCo wants nothing more than to keep its own affairs private while, ironically, digging more into the affairs of private citizens. After having opposed investigations into 9/11, Iraq, Katrina, wiretapping, and more, we have this:

“U.S. intelligence agencies have been secretly removing from public access at the National Archives thousands of historical documents that were available for years.”

So says the New York Times. Over 55,000 documents that were declassified have been reclassified since 1999, with the pace increasing after Bush came to power. This is hardly revelatory for a presidency that has secured its place as the most secrecy-obsessed administration in history.

  • In 2004 the government classified a record 15.6 million new documents, an increase of 81% over 2000.
  • President Bush’s chief of staff ordered a review that lead to 6,000 documents being pulled from government Web sites.
  • The Department of Defense banned photos of military caskets being returned to the United States.
  • Vice President Dick Cheney kept his energy task force records secret “to hide the influence of Kenneth Lay, Enron and other energy moguls.”
  • The CIA asks a new question during its standard employer polygraph exam: “Do you have friends in the media?”
  • There have been more than 1,200 presumably terrorist-related arrests and 750 people deported, and no one outside the government knows their names or how many court docket entries have been erased or never entered.
  • Secret federal court hearings have been held without any public record of when or where, or who was tried.
  • When the American Civil Liberties Union challenged provisions of the Patriot Act, it was prohibited from telling anyone about it.
  • The Washington Post reported that in recent years, judicial committees acting in secret stripped information nearly 600 times from reports intended to alert the public to conflicts of interest involving federal judges.

Bill Moyers recently delivered the keynote speech for the 20th anniversary of the National Security Archive, a non-governmental research institute and library at The George Washington University. The speech covered a lot of territory and included this tasty morsel:

“Bush and Cheney have made the Freedom of Information Act their number one target, more fervently pursued for elimination than Osama Bin Laden. No sooner had he come to office than George W. Bush set out to eviscerate both FOIA and the Presidential Records Act. He has been determined to protect his father’s secrets when the first Bush was Vice President and then President – as well as his own. Call it Bush Omerta.”

The speech further reveals that BushCo’s zeal to dismantle FOIA has roots that go back to the Ford Administration when Ford was talked out of signing legislation that would have strengthened the act. This feat of persuasion was carried out by his chief of staff, Donald Rumsfeld, and his deputy chief of staff, Dick Cheney (with additional help from Justice Department lawyer, Antonin Scalia).

Ford’s brain trust has ascended to even higher plateaus of power and their penchant for secrecy has not abated. Rumsfeld’s Pentagon was recently exposed for having paid Iraqi news outlets to publish positive stories written by American PR consultants. Cheney successfully defended his efforts to keep secret the names of corporate energy honchos whom he met with to craft energy policy. That defense included a Supreme Court victory partly decided by his other hunting pal, Antonin Scalia (with whom he was hunting just weeks before Scalia would rule on his case).

The administration is getting help from outside its own coven. The White House’s exposure to the NSA wiretapping scandal is being protected by friendly committee chairs in Congress who have agreed not to initiate oversight hearings. And the scandal itself was hidden from the public by the New York Times, who sat on the story for over a year at the President’s request. This may be the most forboding aspect of the whole affair. When the press joins the conspiracy to keep Americans in the dark about government initiatives conducted in their name, we are truly approaching the end of our brief experiment in the rule of the people.