“NO ADMINISTRATION HAS DONE MORE TO CONCEAL” the workings of government from the people — this from a new report just released from the minority staff of the House Government Reform Committee.
In 1983, I worked as a staff assistant to Arnold Horelick at the RAND/UCLA Center for the Study of Soviet International Behavior, based at RAND Corporation in Santa Monica.
Horelick was one of those mesmerizing high priests of Soviet studies whose knowledge of the inner workings of the Politburo combined simultaneously with a sophisticated grasp of the throw-weight of Soviet nuclear warheads made him (among a few others) one of the nation’s leading gatekeepers of national security policy-making.
Arnold Horelick co-wrote with Myron Rush the seminal Strategic Power and Soviet Foreign Policy which is the first major analytic study of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Harvard’s Graham Allison used Horelick’s work as the foundation bedrock of his best-selling Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, which nearly every political science student in the nation over two decades read in Political Science 101.
Horelick was a contemporary of all the foreign policy big guns then — Kissinger, Brzezinski, Adam Ulam, Marshall Goldman, Paul Nitze, William Colby, many others. Strobe Talbott, then Time Magazine‘s top Soviet writer and interpreter, was in touch frequently with Arnold, stopping by regularly to give brown bag lunch talks.
But in 1983, Horelick stepped out of the “cleared world” of secrets and espionage and worried about the American public’s right to know about its world, its rivals, and contemporary affairs in general.
Defying the culture of secrecy in which he had thrived, Horelick helped launch an effort that few people know about to convince CIA czar Bill Casey that “official secrecy” had expanded during the first couple of years of Reagan’s tenure to unhealthy and potentially undemocratic levels. Horelick, from his base at the super-secretive RAND Corporation, led an unheralded but noble battle against Casey to try and preempt the administration from making virtually everything relating to national security analysis sensitive or classified information.
I don’t know whether Arnold and his comrades in this effort succeeded to any great degree, but I do know that the problem of widening official secrecy is on us again. I know that more people need to blow whistles and try and stop this very bad trend.
Via FUGOP (see this excellent site), I received a valuable and thought-provoking report (released on September 14th) “Secrecy in the Bush Administration,” prepared for Congressman Henry Waxman by the Special Investigations Division/Minority Staff of the House Committee on Government Reform. I have just spent the last hour and a half reading it, and the problem is worse than I thought.
This is a small selection from this excellent report that converges with my own frustrations trying to get important policy data from the government, current and historical:
Beginning in the 1960s, Congress enacted a series of landmark laws that promote “government in the sunshine.” These include the Freedom of Information Act, the Presidential Records Act, and the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Each of these laws enables the public to view the internal workings of the executive branch. And each has been narrowed in scope and application under the Bush Administration.
Freedom of Information Act
The Freedom of Information Act is the primary law providing access to information held by the executive branch. Adopted in 1966, FOIA established the principle that the public should have broad access to government records. Under the Bush Administration, however, the statute’s reach has been narrowed and agencies have resisted FOIA requests through procedural tactics and delay. The Administration
— Issued guidance reversing the presumption in favor of disclosure and instructing agencies to withhold a broad and undefined category of “sensitive” information;
— Supported statutory and regulatory changes that preclude disclosure of a wide range of information, including information relating to the economic, health, and security infrastructure of the nation; and
— Placed administrative obstacles in the way of organizations seeking to use FOIA to obtain federal records, such as denials of fee waivers and delays in agency responses.
Independent academic experts consulted for this report decried these trends. They stated that the Administration has “radically reduced the public right to know,” that its policies “are not only sucking the spirit out of the FOIA, but shriveling its very heart,” and that no Administration in modern times has “done more to conceal the
workings of government from the people.”
Secrecy undermines the ecosystem of transparency that is vital for democracy’s survival. When official secrecy dominates a political system, structural corruption thrives.
I have been giving a lot of thought to structural corruption in America — and what the corruption of America’s blue chip media organizations, political parties, religious institutions, and corporations means. I want to write an article soon that compares right-wing Republican kingpin and harrasser of moderate Republicans Tom DeLay to Japan’s late kingmaker Shin Kanemaru.
RAND has sometimes placed self-interest above the public good, in my view, but Arnold Horelick was hitting exactly the right target, more than two decades ago.
It looks like Henry Waxman is carrying on this important effort — much as the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan did as well.
In any case, read this report.
— Steve Clemons