Tomgram: Ruth Rosen, Shutting Down the Information Society, Bush-Style

We live with an administration whose concept of domestic “freedom” went out with those “freedom fries,” briefly sold at the cafeterias of the House of Representatives. The Bush team has quite literally been a force for darkness. For those who remember the “memory hole” down which the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Truth dumped all uncomfortable or inconvenient documents in Orwell’s famed dystopian novel 1984, this administration has created its functional equivalent. Just since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the government has removed from open shelves and sequestered from public view more than one million pages of “historical government documents — a stack taller than the U.S. Capitol.” According to the Associated Press, “some of these documents are more  than a century old.” What we are seeing in many cases is “declassification in reverse.” For example, the CIA and other federal agencies “have secretly reclassified over 55,000 pages of records taken from the open shelves at the National Archives and Records Administration.” These have even included half-century-old documents already published in a State Department historical series. In many cases, there is simply no way of knowing what has been removed, because the removals have largely not been catalogued.

Even the Pentagon phone book, on sale at the Government Printing Office bookstore until 2001, is gone. There’s little way for a citizen to know who occupy offices that may determine the course of his or her life. In a sense, there are no longer “public servants,” only private ones, beholden to the President, not Americans. This is what “national security,” Bush-style, really means. Similarly, as Robert Dreyfuss discovered when he tried to chart out who was working in Vice President Cheney’s office while researching a piece, no information could be revealed to a curious reporter, not even the names and positions of those who worked for the Vice President, those who, theoretically, were working for us. Cheney’s office would not even publicly acknowledge its own employees, no less let them be interviewed.

In this same period, as Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists (who produces the invaluable Secrecy News each day), pointed out in Slate, “[T]he pace of classification activity has increased by 75 percent” in the Bush years. The Information Security Oversight Office, which supervises the government’s classification system, recorded “a rise from 9 million classification actions in fiscal year 2001 to 16 million in fiscal year 2004.”

The removal of documents en masse, the denial of access to the public, the classification of everything — these are signs of a now seven-year-long shutting off of the flow of unsupervised information. But perhaps nothing has been as crucial as the shutting down that Ruth Rosen, former columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and author of the groundbreaking book The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America (recently updated), considers below under the rubric: “soft crimes” of the Bush administration. Tom

Soft Crimes Against Democracy

What Ever Happened to Freedom of Information?
By Ruth Rosen

Disgraceful, shameful, illegal, and yes, dangerous. These are words that come to mind every time the Bush administration makes yet another attempt to consolidate executive power, while wrapping itself in secrecy and deception.

And its officials never stop. In May, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit group, filed a lawsuit seeking information from the White House Office of Administration about an estimated five million e-mail messages that mysteriously vanished from White House computer servers between March 2003 and October 2005. Congress wants to investigate whether these messages contain evidence about the firing of nine United States attorneys who may have refused to use their positions to help Republican candidates or harm Democratic ones.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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