Government Secrecy

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Ashley Simons
"Secrecy and a free, democratic government don't mix," President Harry Truman once said. Harry Truman understood the importance of an open government in a free society. Unfortunately, George W. Bush has a different outlook. From the first days of his administration, President Bush has taken steps to tighten the government's hold on information and limit public scrutiny of its activities. Expansive assertions of executive privilege, restrictive views of the Freedom of Information Act, increasing use of national security classification, stonewalling in response to congressional request for information – all these were evident even before the September 11 attacks (At Issue: Has the Bush administration misused government secrecy?). Since then the clamps on information have only tightened. The purpose of this paper is to examine some methods used by the government and to provide some explanations why the government is keeping the American public uninformed.

In a democracy, representatives of the citizenry may momentarily cloak their decision-making and their policies in secrecy for the good of the nation, to protect it from the enemies and to assure its survival. However, those representatives must remember that the secrecy they impose is only momentary and that the shrouded decisions and policies they make, once made known to the citizenry, must be acceptable to them. The citizenry, in turn, accept such secrecy only in limited instances and on a momentary basis in order to have the confidence that their representatives are making decisions and policies acceptable to them. A government failing to honor these arrangements may be one not worth the cost of preservation.

The federal government has a long history of making information secret. The marking of documents to indicate their protected status, confidential or secret, began as an informal practice in the early days of the federal government. It was an exercise carried over from...
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