Our government has a wonderful knack for keeping secrets while claiming to be a government “by the people, for the people.” It’s rather hard to keep tabs on the government that’s supposedly working for you when you haven’t a clue what they’re up to. People complained that the Bush administration unnecessarily increased the amount of information deemed classified by our government and when Obama was campaigning he promised to reverse this trend and unleash an era of unprecedented government transparency. Surprising only to his supporters Obama didn’t deliver on that promise and we are still living under a government that’s keep absolutely ridiculous stuff classified:
In 2009, President Obama famously promised “an unprecedented level of openness” in his administration, and a lynchpin in his open government plan was an overhaul of the government’s bloated secrecy system.
Unfortunately, besides the most peripheral and cosmetic changes, government secrecy has only increased since Obama took office. Last year, as part of their Washington Post series and subsequent book Top Secret America, Dana Priest and William Arkin reported, “An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.” Yet incredibly, when the government released its official count as part of an intelligence community report to Congress two months ago, the number of people holding the Top Secret clearance had ballooned to 1,419,051. And the same report noted that 4.2 million people hold some level of security clearances for access to classified information.
I guess we can sweep this hole mess under the old hope and change rug. Whenever I bring up the government’s abuse of classification I inevitably get told by somebody that these practices are absolutely essential for national security. What those people must not realize is that the government classified plenty of documents that have nothing to do with the realm of national security:
Document classification, already at record highs under the Bush Administration, has continued to explode as well. The government classified a staggering 77 million documents in 2010, a 40% increase over the previous year.
Overclassification causes a myriad of problems. It can open the government up to ridicule, like when the CIA recently refused to release a single passage from its study on global warming, claiming it would harm national security. It can stifle public debate, like two months ago when the CIA tried to censor the memoir critical of its post-9/11 tactics (despite the fact that much of the information that had already been revealed in Congressional testimony). It can encourage waste and incompetence, as it has at the Department of Homeland Security, where even the budget and number of employees is classified. And most critically, it can be used as a veil to hide illegal conduct, such as the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program.
I’m sure the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) study on global warming holds significant concerns regarding this country’s security. The government is even using their power of classification to remove any threat of being held responsible for killing an American citizen without due process:
Nowhere was this absurdity starker than when the media reported on the death of Yemen’s alleged al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, at the hands of a (classified) C.I.A. drone. The evidence against him, the panel of U.S officials who decided he was to be put on a “kill list,” and the legal memo “authorizing” his killing were all “Top Secret,” despite the extraordinary constitutional implications of extrajudicially killing an American citizen.
While our government says we should simply trust them to judge which American citizens should live and which should die they’re not willing to present the evidence they used to come to their decisions. We have no clue what evidence existed that nominated al-Awlaki for the kill list.
In a free country where the people are supposed to keep an eye on their government nothing can be accomplished if those very people are kept in the dark on what their government is doing. We are left to speculate on every little action they take and most people know that those concealing their intentions are usually up to no good.