When you keep a secret, it doesn’t really go away. Often, it just festers until it reaches the surface, exploding like a large boil.
Federal intelligence agencies kept a seven-year-old secret from the public. On Tuesday, Feb. 21, the National Security Archive reported that 9,500 previously accessible documents in the National Archives, amounting to over 55,000 pages of material, had been reclassified. This secret was not originally public information. An intelligence historian stumbled over it after realizing that many of the documents he’d photocopied had disappeared from the archives. After extensive research, he came to a conclusion: We’re all being shafted, heavily.
Federal archives are not like socks in the laundry. They can’t simply disappear on a whim. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) normally ensures that a permeable membrane exists between citizens and their government. This is essential to journalism; many articles contain information pulled with help from FOIA. However, with any heightened emphasis on national security, openness goes out the window. Instead, we’re left with arbitrary, unfair and often illegal shenanigans.
Many of these documents were quite benign. One article pulled from the National Archives cited a Cold War-era plan to float balloons carrying anti-Communist leaflets over countries behind the Iron Curtain. Some reclassified articles are still open to public viewing in other places, effectively making efforts at classification useless. Some call it mind-boggling bureaucracy at its finest, ill logic deemed logic by high-ranking men.
Even better, this ill logic is financed exclusively from our own pockets. Intelligence agencies used taxpayers’ money – to the tune of a few million dollars. The New York Times said it cost $1 million just to make the building to house these reviewers. Homeless people are starving to death in New York City, and we’re spending millions of dollars on articles about balloons. Sound like an efficient use of resources?
By the way, this work is also illegal. Any type of reclassification requires previous approval from the Information Security Oversight Office. This wasn’t done. FOIA only allows certain exemptions to its open-door information policy. This was brushed over, but why? Maybe some of these documents were embarrassing to the parties involved. Maybe some of these documents cast U.S. policy in a negative light. Maybe some of these documents contained information the public should see.
I’m not saying classification is bad — sometimes it is needed for national security — but, in this case, national security seems to be a decoy, a limp excuse for an unnecessary level of secrecy. In the novel 1984, Winston Smith noted that many news articles were deleted from memory, while others were altered and transmogrified into Newspeak, a banal and whitewashed language. Though 1984 is an overused analogy, I can’t help but notice similarities. If it wasn’t for one historian, we’d all be left in the dark about these federal hops, skips and jumps. Thank him for his scrutiny – and, while you’re at it, tell your worst secret to your best friend.
Daily Nexus columnist Matt Cappiello contracted his newest secret this weekend after he was shafted, heavily.