The 2013 edition of the Secrecy Report from OpenTheGoverment.org is now available.
- Secrecy Report 2013 --The Tip of the Iceberg (announcement) OpenTheGoverment.org (October 1, 2013)
Today's release of the 2013 Secrecy Report, the 9th annual review and analysis of indicators of secrecy in the federal government by OpenTheGovernment.org, comes amid shocking revelations that cast doubt on the accuracy and the meaningfulness of the government's statistics about surveillance.... [T]he government's insistence on keeping interpretations of the law secret and a lack of oversight by Congress and the Judicial Branch helped set the stage for a surveillance program that is much broader than previously believed.
- Secrecy Report 2013: Indicators of Secrecy in the Federal Government. by Patrice McDermott, Amy Bennett, Abby Paulson, and Shannon Alexander, OpenTheGoverment.org. (2013)
As a result of the disclosures [by Edward Snowden through the Guardian and the Washington Post], the intelligence community has been forced to declassify and release documents that, until recently, they (and the FISA Court) averred could not and should not be declassified. The misdirection in which our government has engaged and the use of secret law are, for us, as disturbing as the activities they have hidden.
- The Must Read 2013 Secrecy Report is Out, by Nate Jones, Unredacted: The National Security Archive (October 7, 2013).
Steven Aftergood describes Presidential Policy Directives and discusses how and why they are not usually posted to the White House website -- even when they are not classified and are available elsewhere.
- Presidential Directives Mostly Withheld by White House, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News (July 12, 2013).
The Obama Administration has issued more than 20 Presidential Policy Directives (PPDs), many of which are collected or listed on the Federation of American Scientists web site.
But with few exceptions (PPD 14, PPD 19) most of these cannot be obtained from the White House.
Security expert Bruce Schneier makes a strong case, with lots of links to background material:
- Government Secrets and the Need for Whistleblowers by Bruce Schneier Crypto-Gram Newsletter (June 15, 2013).
The U.S. government is on a secrecy binge. It overclassifies more information than ever. And we learn, again and again, that our government regularly classifies things not because they need to be secret, but because their release would be embarrassing.
Knowing how the government spies on us is important. Not only because so much of it is illegal -- or, to be as charitable as possible, based on novel interpretations of the law -- but because we have a right to know. Democracy requires an informed citizenry in order to function properly, and transparency and accountability are essential parts of that. That means knowing what our government is doing to us, in our name. That means knowing that the government is operating within the constraints of the law. Otherwise, we're living in a police state.
[This essay originally appeared in The Atlantic.]
CRYPTO-GRAM is written by Bruce Schneier. Schneier is the author of the best sellers "Liars and Outliers," "Beyond Fear," "Secrets and Lies," and "Applied Cryptography," and an inventor of the Blowfish, Twofish, Threefish, Helix, Phelix, and Skein algorithms. He is the Chief Security Technology Officer of BT, and is on the Advisory Boards of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). He is a frequent writer and lecturer on security topics. See http://www.schneier.com.
Wikileaks opens Public Library of US Diplomacy (PLUSD) with large cache of 1970s US diplomatic and intel documentsSubmitted by jrjacobs on Mon, 2013-04-08 14:18.
Wikileaks today announced the launch of the Public Library of US Diplomacy (PlusD), a searchable database with the release of Special Project K: the Kissinger cables -- ostensibly, PlusD will include other records in the future. WikiLeaks has published more than 1.7 million U.S. diplomatic records -- including cables from previously released Cablegate cables, intelligence reports, and congressional correspondence -- from January 1, 1973 to December 31, 1976, the period during which Henry Kissinger was secretary of state and national security advisor. The documents were formerly confidential, classified, or labeled "NODIS" ("no distribution") or "Eyes Only". The database can be accessed at http://search.wikileaks.org/plusd/.
According to Wikileaks:
...Most of the records were reviewed by the United States Department of State's systematic 25-year declassification process. At review, the records were assessed and either declassified or kept classified with some or all of the metadata records declassified. Both sets of records were then subject to an additional review by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Once believed to be releasable, they were placed as individual PDFs at the National Archives as part of their Central Foreign Policy Files collection. Despite the review process supposedly assessing documents after 25 years there are no diplomatic records later than 1976. The formal declassification and review process of these extremely valuable historical documents is therefore currently running 12 years late.
The data, which has not been leaked, comprises diplomatic records from the beginning of 1973 to the end of 1976, covering a variety of diplomatic traffic including cables, intelligence reports and congressional correspondence.
Julian Assange said WikiLeaks had been working for the past year to analyse and assess a vast amount of data held at the US national archives before releasing it in a searchable form.
WikiLeaks has called the collection the Public Library of US Diplomacy (PlusD), describing it as the world's largest searchable collection of US confidential, or formerly confidential, diplomatic communications.
Assange told Press Association the information showed the vast range and scope of US diplomatic and intelligence activity around the world.
Henry Kissinger was US secretary of state and national security adviser during the period covered by the collection, and many of the reports were written by him or were sent to him. Thousands of the documents are marked NODIS (no distribution) or Eyes Only, as well as cables originally classed as secret or confidential.
Assange said WikiLeaks had undertaken a detailed analysis of the communications, adding that the information eclipsed Cablegate, a set of more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks from November 2010 and over the following year. He said WikiLeaks had developed sophisticated technical systems to deal with complex and voluminous data.
Top secret documents were not available, while some others were lost or irreversibly corrupted for periods including December 1975 and March and June 1976, said Assange.
ProPublica has a short report with good links about the massive (roughly 6,000-page) Senate committee report on the CIA's detention, interrogation and rendition of terror suspects.
- The Senate Report on CIA Interrogations You May Never See, by Cora Currier,
ProPublica (Dec. 7, 2012).
... it's unclear how much, if any, of the review you might get to read.
The committee first needs to vote to endorse the report. Republicans, who are a minority on the committee, have been boycotting the investigation since the summer of 2009.
Even if the report is approved next week, it won’t be made public then, if at all. Decisions on declassification will come at "a later time"...
...the Obama administration has argued in courts that details about the CIA program [including some of the Guantanamo detainees' own accounts of their imprisonment] are still classified.
Restrictions on WikiLeaks Documents Challenged in Court, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News (May 22, 2012).
The publication of leaked classified documents by WikiLeaks continues to confound government officials and to generate some unusual legal tangles. Last month, attorneys for a Guantanamo prisoner asked a federal court to nullify the restrictions that the government has imposed on access to and dissemination of the leaked records, so that the prisoner can prepare a response to the disclosures contained in them.
Also see A librarian reacts to "A librarian reacts to wikileaks", by James R. Jacobs. (Feb 13, 2011).
"In an opinion published this week, DC District Judge Richard W. Roberts did an astonishing thing that federal courts almost never do: He probed into the decision to classify a government document and concluded that it was not well-founded. He ordered the agency to release the document under the Freedom of Information Act." (Aftergood)
- Court Says Agency Classification Decision is Not "Logical". by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News (March 2nd, 2012)
- Judge issues rare order to release classified document. By Josh Gerstein, Politico (2/29/12).
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, in their year in review, summed up 2011 as the year that secrecy jumped the shark. A sad state of affairs for the Obama Administration, which was supposed to be the most transparent ever.
- Government report concludes the government classified 77 million documents in 2010, a 40% increase on the year before. The number of people with security clearances exceeded 4.2. million, more people than the city of Los Angeles.
- Government tells Air Force families, including their kids, it’s illegal to read WikiLeaks. The month before, the Air Force barred its service members fighting abroad from reading the New York Times—the country’s Paper of Record.
- Lawyers for Guantanamo detainees were barred from reading the WikiLeaks Guantanamo files, despite their contents being plastered on the front page of the New York Times.
- President Obama refuses to say the words “drone” or “C.I.A” despite the C.I.A. drone program being on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers every day.
- CIA refuses to release even a single passage from its center studying global warming, claiming it would damage national security. As Secrecy News' Steven Aftergood said, “That’s a familiar song, and it became tiresome long ago.”
- The CIA demands former FBI agent Ali Soufan censor his book criticizing the CIA’s post 9/11 interrogation tactics of terrorism suspects. Much of the material, according to the New York Times, “has previously been disclosed in open Congressional hearings, the report of the national commission on 9/11 and even the 2007 memoir of George J. Tenet, the former C.I.A. director.”
- Department of Homeland Security has become so bloated with secrecy that even the “office's budget, including how many employees and contractors it has, is classified,” according to the Center for Investigative reporting. Yet their intelligence reports “produce almost nothing you can’t find on Google,” said a former undersecretary.
- Headline from the Wall Street Journal in September: “Anonymous US officials push open government.”
- NSA declassified a 200 year old report which they said demonstrated its “commitment to meeting the requirements” of President Obama’s transparency agenda. Unfortunately, the document “had not met the government's own standards for classification in the first place,” according to J. William Leonard, former classification czar.
- Government finally declassifies the Pentagon Papers 40 years after they appeared on the front page of the New York Times and were published by the House’s Armed Services Committee.
- Secrecy expert Steve Aftergood concludes after two years “An Obama Administration initiative to curb overclassification of national security information… has produced no known results to date.”
- President Obama accepts a transparency award…behind closed doors.
- Government attorneys insist in court they can censor a book which was already published and freely available online.
- Department of Justice refuses to release its interpretation of section 215 of the Patriot Act, a public law.
- U.S. refuses to release its legal justification for killing an American citizen abroad without a trial, despite announcing the killing in a press conference.
- U.S. won’t declassify legal opinion on 2001’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program.
- National Archive announced it was working on declassifying “a backlog of nearly 400 million pages of material that should have been declassified a long time ago.”
- The CIA refused to declassify Open Source Works, “which is the CIA’s in-house open source analysis component, is devoted to intelligence analysis of unclassified, open source information” according to Steve Aftergood.
- Twenty-three year State Department veteran gets his security clearance revoked for linking to a WikiLeaks document on his blog.
- The ACLU sued asking the State Department to declassify 23 cables out of the more than 250,000 released by WikiLeaks. After more than a year, the government withheld 12 in their entirety. You can see the other 11, heavily redacted, next to the unredacted copies on the ACLU website.
- The ACLU said it sued the State Department in part to show the "absurdity of the US secrecy regime." Mission accomplished.
[HT to Glen Greenwald]
Presidential Directives Withheld From White House Website, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News (October 11th, 2011).
Last Friday, White House officials made at least two public references to Presidential Policy Directives (PPDs). PPD 1 was cited in a new executive order on computer security and PPD 8 was cited in a White House blog posting on disaster preparedness. Each Directive is a significant expression of national policy. Neither one is classified. And yet neither of them -- nor any other Obama Presidential Policy Directive -- can be found on the White House website.
The White House decision not to make these documents available is a stark reminder of the incoherence of the Obama Administration's transparency policy, and its inconsistent implementation.
The White House has released a new report, on open government:
- The Obama Administration’s Commitment to Open Government: A Status Report [the report, pdf, 34pp].
- A Status Report on the Administration’s Commitment to Open Government [announcement] by Steven Croley, The White House Open Gov Blog (September 16, 2011).
In an analysis, Steven Aftergood says the report, "downplays or overlooks many of the Administration's principal achievements in reducing inappropriate secrecy. At the same time, it fails to acknowledge the major defects of the openness program to date. And so it presents a muddled picture of the state of open government, while providing a poor guide to future policy.
- An Ambivalent White House Report on Open Government, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News (September 19, 2011).