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Government secrecy is pervasive problem

The thing I like about blogging is being able to connect the dots, to provide a context in order to expand on or prove a point. Sometimes, it takes work and a good deal of brain power. Other times, those dots just connect themselves.

This is one of those latter times. I probably could have simply given links to the following 2 articles and nothing more. It’s *that* clear that these 2 articles are proof positive that government secrecy is deep-rooted, pervasive and far-reaching and happen as a matter of course from the insignificant to the fundamental. Of course, some secrecy is justified (like some lobbying is justified; after all, ALA is a lobbyist!), but these 2 articles show that there’s an information war going on and the losers will be the American public, historians, researchers, libraries etc. It’s also clear reason for getting digital govt information off of govt servers as quickly as possible, getting it onto public FTP sites like public.resource.org, into LOCKSS caches like the U.S. Government Documents Private LOCKSS Network, and into public, non-profit digital archives like the Internet Archive. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” and it can only shine in public.

(Homans) Gonzales’s March 2001 memo was the opening salvo in a war over information, one that began in the earliest days of the Bush administration and will continue beyond its end. The stakes, which no one could have predicted when the letter crossed Carlin’s desk, are now self-evidently enormous: when Bush hands over the keys to the White House in January, he will leave behind more unanswered questions of sweeping national importance than any modern president. We still do not know how intelligence operatives, acting in the name of the United States, have interrogated suspected terrorists, and how they are interrogating them now. We do not know how many Americans’ phone calls and e-mails were scanned by the National Security Agency. We do not know—although we can guess—who ordered the firings of the U.S. attorneys who didn’t comply with the Bush administration’s political agenda, and we do not know who may have been wrongly prosecuted by those who did. There are large gaps in our understanding of the backstories to everything from pre-war intelligence in Iraq to the censoring of scientific opinion at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior. And those are the things we know we don’t know—there are also what Donald Rumsfeld might call the unknown unknowns.

(Althaus and Leetaru)

  • There are at least five documents taking the form of White House press releases that detail the number and names of countries in the “Coalition of the Willing” that publicly supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. At one time, all five of these documents were archived on the White House web site.
  • Today, only three of these five documents can still be accessed in the White House archives. One of the missing lists was removed from the White House web site at some point in late 2004, and the other was removed between late 2005 and early 2006. These two “missing” lists represent earlier and smaller lists of coalition members.
  • The text of three of these five documents was altered at some point after their initial release, even though in most cases the documents still retained their original release dates and were presented as unaltered originals. These alterations to the public record changed the apparent number of countries making up the coalition, as well as the names of countries in the coalition. Some of these alterations appear to have been made as long as two years after the document’s purported release date.
  • Of the five documents, only two appear to have remained unaltered after the date of their initial release. These are the only two of the five that could be authentic originals. However, we find no evidence that either of these press releases was distributed broadly to the media through normal electronic channels.
  • Two versions of the coalition list dated March 27, 2003 can be currently accessed on the White House web site. Both claim that there were 49 countries in the coalition, but one lists only 48 by name, omitting Costa Rica. The revision history of this document shows that Costa Rica’s name was removed retroactively at some point in late 2004, after the Costa Rican Supreme Court ruled that continued use of its name on the list was a violation of Costa Rica’s constitution.
  • Taken together, these findings suggest a pattern of revision and removal from the public record that spans several years, from 2003 through at least 2005. Instead of issuing a series of revised lists with new dates, or maintaining an updated master list while preserving copies of the old ones, the White House removed original documents, altered them, and replaced them with backdated modifications that only appear to be originals.

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