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The Zelikow Memo: Internal Critique of Bush Torture Memos Declassified

The State Department has released a February 2006 internal memo from Philip D. Zelikow, counselor to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, opposing Justice Department authorization for “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA. All copies of the memo, which reflect strong internal disagreement within the George W. Bush administration over the constitutionality of such techniques, were thought to have been destroyed. But the State Department located a copy and declassified it in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Security Archive.

DHS, White House, Privacy, Secrecy

Two stories in the news describe different approaches to government secrecy and citizen privacy:

  • White House Orders New Computer Security Rules, By ERIC SCHMITT, New York Times (October 6, 2011)

    “The White House plans to issue an executive order on Friday to replace a flawed patchwork of computer security safeguards exposed by the disclosure of hundreds of thousands of classified government documents to WikiLeaks last year.

    “…In addition to these immediate measures, Mr. Obama’s order creates a task force led by the attorney general and the director of national intelligence to combat leaks from government workers, or what the White House calls an “insider threat.”

    “The directive also establishes a special government committee that must submit a report to the president within 90 days, and then at least once a year after that, assessing federal successes and failures in protecting classified information on government computer networks.

    “…[Pentagon issued cyber identity] credentials allow supervisors to track what users are working on.”

  • Data Mining: DHS Needs to Improve Executive Oversight of Systems Supporting Counterterrorism, Government Accountability Office, GAO-11-742 (September 7, 2011). The report says that, until needed reforms are put in place the Department of Homeland Security and its component agencies “may not be able to ensure that critical data mining systems used in support of counterterrorism are both effective and that they protect personal privacy.”

    “By not consistently performing necessary evaluations and reviews of these systems, DHS and its component agencies risk developing and acquiring systems that do not effectively support their agencies’ missions and do not adequately ensure the protection of privacy-related information.”

See also: GAO Report: DHS Data Mining Needs Privacy Oversight, By Grant Gross, IDG News, PC World, (Oct 7, 2011). “One of the most disturbing findings by the GAO was that ICEPIC rolled out its law enforcement sharing component before it was approved by the DHS privacy office.”

The Obama Administration’s Commitment to Open Government

The White House has released a new report, on open government:

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.

The Secret Patriot Act

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) says that the government applies a broad legal interpretation of certain provisions of the “P.A.T.R.I.O.T Act” and has classified that interpretation so that it cannot be publicly assessed or challenged.

  • There’s a Secret Patriot Act, Senator Says, By Spencer Ackerman, Wired (May 25, 2011).

    Wyden says he “can’t answer” any specific questions about how the government thinks it can use the Patriot Act. That would risk revealing classified information — something Wyden considers an abuse of government secrecy. He believes the techniques themselves should stay secret, but the rationale for using their legal use under Patriot ought to be disclosed.

  • The Secret PATRIOT Act and the End of Limited Government in America, by E.D. Kain, Forbes (May 26, 2011).

    Apologists for the PATRIOT Act have claimed that the innocent have nothing to fear from the government’s broadened powers.

At isssue is the so-called “business-records provision” of the Act (Section 215) which empowers the FBI to get businesses, including libraries, to turn over records it deems relevant to a security investigation.

Sen. Wyden Decries “Secret Law” on PATRIOT Act, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News (May 25th, 2011)

“We can have honest and legitimate disagreements about exactly how broad intelligence collection authorities ought to be, and members of the public do not expect to know all of the details about how those authorities are used,” Sen. Wyden said. “But I hope each Senator would agree that the law itself should not be kept secret and that the government should always be open and honest with the American people about what the law means.”

But the Senate moved toward cloture on reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act provisions and the Wyden amendment, which was co-sponsored by several Senate colleagues, was not permitted to be offered or to be voted upon.

The Pentagon Papers To Be Declassified

Steven Aftergood reports today that the Pentagon Paper are to be declassified:

The National Declassification Center (NDC) at the National Archives will declassify the full text of the Pentagon Papers as well as the underlying documentation on which they are based, along with investigative material concerning the 1971 leak of the Papers by Daniel Ellsberg, the NDC said yesterday.

As we noted here recently, Steven recently pointed out that “every public and private library in the country that has a copy of the Papers is technically in possession of currently classified material.”

One has to wonder if the Pentagon Papers had been released digitally and not on paper, if libraries had excluded then from their collections at the time of their release, if librarians had argued against their selection and acquisition and preservation, if they were not preserved in libraries 40 years ago, would we still have them? Would their declassification have happened today?