Secret Reports, Secret Budgets, Secret Operations, Secret Courts ...
A Secret Government!
By Sibel Edmonds
December 15, 2009 "Boiling Frogs" -- As stated by Patrick Henry with conviction and passion, a democratic government will not last if its operations and policies are not visible to its public. The foundation of our democratic republic is supposed to be based on an open and accountable government. Transparency is what enables accountability.
For several decades post 1945, under the guise of the Cold War, with the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency and an aggressive foreign policy based on overt and covert intervention abroad, the seeds of excessive secrecy were planted, aggressively nurtured, and taken to heights not imaginable in our founding fathers’ vision of transparent and accountable government. Although the Watergate Scandal brought a short-lived wave of awakening, and to a certain degree defiance, by getting Americans to question the extent of and the real need for governmental secrecy, the subsequent political movements were eventually halted with no real action ever taken, thanks to a Congress unwilling to truly exercise its oversight authority over the intelligence community.
With the September 11 Terrorist Attacks the establishment had all it needed to take government secrecy to new heights where neither the Constitution nor the separation of powers would matter or be applicable. These new heights could never be reached in a functioning and live democracy, nor could they be sustained and flourish without a home marked by all the characteristics of a police state. Those new heights were indeed reached, and they surely have been not only sustained, but actually increased; notch by notch. Waving the national security flag nonstop, reminding us on a daily basis of some vague boogiemen terrorists who may be hiding under our beds, drilling the words terror-terrorists-terrorism every hour, did the magic; thanks to the US Media.
Let’s examine some of these new heights of secrecy we’ve reached and appear to have accepted:
For the fiscal year 2005, based on an official report released by the National Archives, the total security classification cost estimates for Government was $7.7 billion. This figure represents costs provided by 41 executive branch agencies, including the Department of Defense. But it does not include the cost estimates of the CIA, which is classified by the agency. Here is the breakdown:
Based on the consensus among the knowledgeable this was truly a new height for government secrecy spun out of control. But wait, this new record height was short-lived! It climbed much higher very quickly. Here is the major new height for 2007 secrecy as reported by the US Information Security Oversight Office:
That’s right. In two years the cost of our government’s classification and its secrecy increased from $7.7 Billion to $9.91 Billion. And, as with the 2005 cost this too does not include the CIA and other classified operations and entities we don’t know about. Just keep in mind all those rendition, detention and torture operations we’ve been engaged in around the globe.
The following is a snap shot of a few items in the Secrecy Report Card for 2008 issued by Open the Government:
What does this tell us? Secret Budgets, Secret Courts & Secret Orders, Secret Meetings, no-competition & no-oversight contracts paid by taxpayers’ dollars…
Secret Budgets, Secret Expenditures
What does it mean when we keep hearing secret budget for this agency, secret budget for that acquisition, secret budget for this and that operation? Take this example:
We’ve seen many examples like this; CIA, NSA, DOD, FBI…Here is another ludicrous example:
I know for some reason when it comes to our government expenditures the zeros attached to these dollar amounts don’t register with many. In this case we are talking about nearly $1 billion, and here is the dollar amount with zeros – $1,000,000,000. This is not an amount printed specifically and specially for our government to dispose of as it pleases, as it wishes, with secrecy, thus with immunity and no oversight. These dollars are your money, my money; our tax dollars. Think of these zeros spent with no accountability when you are thinking of your kids’ college funds, your medical bills, your ever-shrinking retirement funds…Then, tell me whether it sits okay with you to see our government spend your hard-earned dollars in secrecy, without your consent, and not to your benefit.
So what does the branch entrusted with oversight and accountability do when it comes to these secret budgets & expenditures? Nothing, really; after all it is shielded by secrecy and classification, and as long as they have a share of this pie, who gives a damn about the public interest?! A good example of this surfaced (unfortunately it quickly disappeared from the media radar) during the Representative Randy Cunningham Scandal. If you don’t remember the details you are not alone; Jennifer Aniston’s story and Brittany’s personal saga didn’t leave much room for major corruption scandals like this. You can read a snapshot of the case here, which describes the congressional corruption side of the story. The following excerpts from the same article have to do with the secrecy aspect of this issue, in 2005, when the Pentagon secret budget was around $22 billion:
The details of these secret aka black budgets are revealed to only a very few select Congressional committee members, and sometimes not even to them. Billions of dollars go to defense companies like the infamous Blackwater (Xe), billions into illegal and immoral operations involving extraordinary renditions, torture and assassinations, billions get lost in secret planes destined to some secret countries for some secret objective, billions are lost due to mismanagement and bad accounting practices…This is our money, and this is supposed to be our government, but the former doesn’t matter while the latter no longer holds true. That part is no longer a secret.
Secret Courts, Secret Hearings
This is a topic I can write about and talk about in detail. Those of you familiar with my case and the invocation of the draconian State Secrets Privilege know this already. Those of you who are not, here are a few excerpts from only one of many unconstitutional secrecy practices I had to endure for almost six years:
This was one of many similar actions by our government to cover up criminal acts and illegal operations using their regularly-employed secrecy card. This was not a case related to some terrorist, or, intelligence gathering method, or, anything that in any way would warrant protection of information. All they (the Federal Government) had to do: tell the courts, the judges, that they deemed everything about me and my case classified. That’s it. Period. No supporting documents, no witnesses, no explanation. They could just say so, and get what they wanted from the other branch which theoretically exists for the purpose of checks and balances; the purpose and the separation that was once upon a time but it isn’t any longer.
This same secrecy card, invocation of state secrets privilege, classification, has been used to shield the government, prevent oversight, and prohibit even the chance of government accountability in case after case: NSA’s illegal domestic wiretapping, torture, government whistleblowers, Inspector General investigations and findings…
Let’s go back to our Secret Court with Secret Orders: Our Secret FISA Court issued 2,371 secret orders in 2007. If you are wondering how the Feds get their federal judges to go along with their unjustified, unwarranted, and in some cases unconstitutional secrecy requests, this may answer it for you to a certain extent: Secrecy Compliance by Judges with a Secret Past. What do I mean by that? Okay, here is a real example, with a real case:
The case involves Judge Reggie Walton who was promoted to the FISA-Secret Court towards the end of the Bush Administration. He is a judge with a really questionable background, who was handpicked by Bush Senior to work in the Drug Czar’s office (I guess you have a pretty good idea of the real qualifications needed for heading that office!). However, you and I, the American Public, are not allowed to know this judge’s deep dark history, despite his record of many questionable rulings. Judge Reggie Walton’s real past and his real finances are secret:
This appears to be one way for the federal government to overcome the burden of the Constitution and separation of powers: Hand select and appoint federal judges with secret pasts and secret financials, and in fact promote them to the secret courts where these thousands of secret orders take place every year.
Secret Investigations, Secret Reports, Secret Documents
So what happens when once in a blue moon you get a little bit of congressional pressure and or media coverage, thus forcing the government to investigate itself? That’s right, the body called the Office of Inspector General, OIG, is just that. It is used when the government is pressured to provide somewhat of an explanation, answer, on cases and scandals that have garnered some level of public attention/scrutiny. One of the offices of the government, with employees who are answerable to the government and paid by the government, is given the task to investigate that same government.
You would think with that much leverage and control the government would not give a hoot about the resulting report card prepared and issued by its own humble servants. You would be wrong. Even then, the government, without having to justify or prove anything, can declare the findings, the report, secret and classified. Let’s get this straight: The purpose, in the first place, for having an IG investigation and report, is to inform the people and their congressional representatives. Yet, that same government can then declare the report, or any portion of that report, secret and classified.
Actually, seeing an IG report that has been redacted by government bosses will put this in perspective. After three years of foot-dragging, due to a certain degree of public pressure and initial congressional requests, the Justice Department’s Inspector General finally issued a report on my case. Here is what the original report looks like: here. Who decides what gets to be redacted? Of course – the mighty government. What are the reasons, what is the justification? No one knows; they are all secret. Why are these reasons secret? You have no right to know, because the reasons themselves are secret to start with. You think I’m joking? I kid you not. After the above redacted report I fought for another two years in courts to find the answers to these same questions. We ended up with one answer; one word: Secret.
The recent developments on the release of torture pictures is another good example:
How about a desperate Congress begging the right to information they are entitled to get in the first place?
Doesn’t this sound pathetic? We the people, through our representatives, the supposed-to-be masters of our nation, begging the supposed-to-be civil servants for information on how and based on what guidelines our government operates?
As for any indication of changes for the good in this area of excessive secrecy with impunity, there seems to be none. In fact, our new President of changes is intending to take it even further, to ludicrous levels. Here is one recent outrageous and Kafkaesque move by the Obama administration (Pay special attention to the sadly funny title!):
I can go on and fill page after page with facts, cases, and examples of our government’s current and worsening state when it comes to transparency, thus to its degree of accountability to we the people. However, I think you get the picture and the picture is crystal clear. Therefore I expect many of you feel the outrage building up, and the desire to bring about real changes bubbling inside you. Because if these points don’t sound outrageous and if they don’t make the state of our liberties look dire and pathetic, then we are all in deep trouble. If we accept secret budgets, if we say ‘okay’ to secret courts, if we shrug off secret hearings and reports, if we unquestioningly pay for secret operations, if we assume indifference to a government operating and hidden in pure secrecy…then we deserve to be a nation of liberty-less servants serving the masters in a secret government, and live in denial of having become inhabitants of a true police state.