Posts Tagged ‘secrecy’

Professor Says Bush Has Transformed Government From “Open” to “Closed” Organization

May 5, 2008

President George W. Bush has presided over the transformation of an open federal government in Washington to one of “pervasive secrecy,” a distinguished authority on communications and First Amendment rights says.

Since his inauguration, Bush has overseen changes that suggest “a dramatic growth of government secrecy, far beyond the secrecy occurring during the Clinton Administration,” writes Susan Dente Ross, an Associate Professor in the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication at Washington State University at Pullman.

“Through executive agency opinions, executive orders, statutory changes, and aggressive litigation, the Bush Administration has effectively limited the power of FOIA(Freedom of Information Act) and reversed the presumption that government records should be available to the public absent demonstrable proof showing that secrecy is needed,” Ross writes in The Long Term View, a journal of opinion published by the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover.

“The administration’s sweeping expansion of the power of federal government to classify records, and so hide them from public view, increases the range of information that may be classified and extends the lifetime of such secrecy,” Ross says. She noted that:

# Mr. Bush has increased the number of federal agencies authorized to designate information as secret and exempt them from public disclosure.

# The Department of Homeland Security removed the agency’s entire classification of information process from public scrutiny. The secretaries’ of Health and Human Services and Agriculture and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, have been granted the right to classify information “for purposes of national security and national defense.”

# The Defense Department has adopted a new policy that imposes strict limits on discussion of all its “critical research” from the “idea phase” onward.

# Mr. Bush has placed his own papers, and those of his father, the former president, “outside the public eye and empowered himself to keep Congress in the dark about intelligence matters.”

# Mr. Bush has increased the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency to empower its director to block declassification of CIA information unless disclosure is authorized by the president.

# Mr. Bush has extended time that information can be kept classified from 10 to 25 years and this period may be extended even longer.

“Blanket closures of INS(Immigration and Naturalization Service) proceedings and absolute gags on disclosure of related information eviscerate the time-honored constitutional protection of open public trials,” Ross writes. She noted the federal government “arrested and refused to identify hundreds of aliens who either may be connected to terrorism as material witnesses or who may have visa or other INS infractions.”

An INS directive issued promptly after September 11, 2001, mandated absolute closure of all deportation hearings in cases the agency determined to be of “special interest” to the war on terrorism, Ross said. The INS judges could gag aliens from disclosing anything learned in closed proceedings and an INS regulation requires states and localities housing federal detainees to withhold all information about them.

Ross noted, though, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge struck down the INS closures and a U.S. District Court Judge in Washington ordered the Justice Department to disclose the names of more than 1,100 non-U.S. citizens detained at some point in connection with terrorism.

Ross asserts, “Legislation championed as essential to protect the nation against terrorist threats allows the federal government to spy on its citizens, to detain them in secret without charges, to prosecute them based on secret evidence, and to prohibit parties to the trial from discussing related information.”

Ross writes the merest perusal of some Bush initiatives shows it has reversed the presumption of open government: “Although the now prevailing presumption of closed government is masked in subtle nuances of language and interpretive guidelines, we may liken the shift to the sea change that would occur in our criminal justice system if we moved from a presumption of innocent until proven guilty to an assumption of guilty until proven innocent.”

Granting the Bush administration has imposed its sweeping secrecy policies in the name of national security, Ross contends this exchange is “unacceptable.” “The trade-off, secrecy for security, is a sham,” she writes. “The citizenry gives up its vital check on abuse of government power and gains little in return.”

“A shadow government that operates in secrecy,” Ross continues, “does not advance the security of its citizens. Ignorance is not security. Safety is not increased when citizens are blinded by government deception and distortion. Government does not better serve its electorate when it operates with impunity.”

The Massachusetts School of Law, publishers of the Long Term View, is purposefully dedicated to the education of minorities, immigrants, and students from low- and middle-income backgrounds that would otherwise be unable to attend law school and enter the legal profession. Views expressed in the publication are not necessarily those of the law school.

Secrecy is Pervasive Throught Academia

April 14, 2008

Although supposedly dedicated to the search for truth, virtually every aspect of academic life in America today is shrouded in “obfuscating secrecy,” a distinguished university economist writes.

From the selection of trustees and presidents to faculty hiring, promotion, and the awarding of tenure, most university business “is carried on behind closed doors in defiance of open-meeting laws” and “hidden from public scrutiny,” writes David Whitten, professor of economics emeritus, retired, of Auburn University, Alabama.

Parents of applicants may be aware that admissions committees do not ordinarily share their reasons for selecting or rejecting them, but few recognize how pervasive secrecy in Academia may also affect them as taxpayers from learning about political favoritism, payoffs, and conflicts of interest.

“Because secrecy surrounds trustee selection, confirmation, and service, citizens and voters have to determine in ignorance whether elected officials are putting the best people in positions of authority over educational institutions,” Whitten writes in “The Long Term View,” (Volume 6) published by the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover.  Trustee selection, he writes, is based “on political considerations and financial contributions,” particularly on the boards of public universities to which governors often name individuals that have kicked in to finance their political campaigns. At private universities, trustees often are named not for their expertise but for their endowments.

“The appointment is a payoff, a tribute, a point of prestige often pointed to with pride by trustees who never darkened the doors of a college as a student,” Whitten writes, adding that “it is common” for trustees “to financially benefit from their connection with the institution.” As examples of universities whose trustees allegedly had benefited financially from their posts, Whitten cited the University of Tennessee, Alamo Community College of San Antonio, Tex., and his own Auburn University.

Universities routinely conceal the names of those they are considering for the presidency and newspapers such as The Cincinnati Post have had to sue to keep search committees (in this instance the University of Cincinnati) from meeting in secret in violation of open meeting laws, Whitten writes. Additionally, the Kansas City Star clashed with the University of Missouri over internal audit records and the University of Hawaii’s regents were sued by a professional journalism society over secrecy about the university president’s salary, disclosed to be $442,000. Whitten also cited like secrecy fights between Academia and the press involving the University of Minnesota and Indiana University.

Most of the work by academic boards of regency and trustees “is done behind closed doors unless there is someone to bring charges,” Whitten writes. He cited the example of a 1993 audit of Boston University by the State’s Attorney General into conflict of interest, questionable decisions about executive pay, and negligence “by establishing new governance and management policies.” Whitten said, “In a classic example of a trustee smoke screen, (Boston) university officials would not disclose details about the policy changes.”

Whitten goes on to say, “Faculty hiring and tenure and promotion decisions are confidential, so young men and women hired or denied a position, promoted or turned down, tenured or released do not know if their fate was sealed by their performance, politics, or circumstances over which they had no control.”

In hiring, faculty interviewers meet in secret and “the candidate is not likely to ever know what occurred at the meeting or in the vote, even if a job is offered and taken.”  And after three years on the job, the professor who has not made significant progress will be released, Whitten writes. “There may be a vote by the tenured faculty, but the reasons for the decision are not shared with the candidate.”

As for admissions, “When parents try to scout a path through the muddle of admissions policies, they find themselves rebuffed by the authorities, who have no interest in opening the process to scrutiny and thereby risking loss of their power of discretion,” Whitten writes.

Secrecy even exists in the very process of accrediting institutions of higher learning by associations that are public service corporations whose operations are “rarely a straightforward, open process with operating rules clearly stated.” Instead, Whitten continues, “Unwritten rules, developed and applied in secret, can be more important in a final accreditation decision than the stated ones.” He cited the example of the American Bar Association that accredits most law schools as an organization that allegedly demands “higher-than-market faculty salary levels and costly, unnecessary expenditures in virtually every other aspect of law schools, thereby forcing tuition and fees too high for most minorities, working class people, and graduates of less than elite colleges and universities.”

“Due to secrecy, nobody outside the small accrediting in-group can assess whether schools are being treated equally, whether there is unfairness among schools, and whether there is favoritism for schools with connections,” the economist points out. He notes that, by contrast, in England, Holland, and New Zealand, accreditation documents are public and available online, so that such vital judgments can be made.

The benefits of secrecy, Whitten concludes, are largely limited to a select few who take advantage of the information at their disposal but not available to others. “The costs are borne by society, taxpayers who are denied an unobstructed view of activities carried out in their name and at their expense, by scholars kept from making the most of their careers, and by students and their parents, with limited information, who are forced to make life-path decisions about where the students should attend college. And secrecy affects academic institutions themselves through an accreditation process that reinforces a cycle of confidentiality at the expense of society.” 

The Long Term View is published by the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, Mass., a law school purposefully dedicated to the education of minorities, immigrants, and students from low- and middle-income families who would otherwise not have the opportunity to enter the legal profession. Views expressed by contributors are not necessarily those of MSL.  #