FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Killing Americans with Secrecy

by WALTER BRASCH

The Pennsylvania Department of Health claims it has a plan to deal with a potential outbreak of H5N1, a lethal strain of the Avian influenza. But it’s a secret plan. So secret that local and county health departments don’t know what it is. Nor do physicians and hospital staffs.

“[W]e have to be very careful with how this information is released,” a state official told the Harrisburg Patriot-News, but assured the public that they “can be confident that preparations that we’ve made can be implemented to the fullest without any difficulties caused by information getting into the wrong hands.”

In translation, what Troy Thompson said was that the department was worried terrorists could get the plan, and so the public should just trust government.

Had George Wisner, editor of the New York Sun, trusted government in 1834, thousands might have died from cholera, which had a mortality rate at the time similar to H5N1. Wisner had heard rumors of a death from cholera. The cause could have been in the city’s water supply or in tainted food sold in groceries or in restaurants. But, the health department said there was no occurrence. After persistent badgering, Wisner got the health officials to admit there “may” have been a problem. But they said the people would panic and needlessly tie up doctors and hospitals if the Sun published the story. The other, more “responsible,” newspapers knew about the potential epidemic, said the officials, and had kept quiet because it was “in the public’s best interest.”

The public’s best interest is to know the truth, said Wisner who published the story and suggested the health department was negligent in detecting the disease in the first place. The establishment newspapers, as expected, attacked him for being irresponsible. The public, armed with the truth, neither panicked nor tied up medical resources. An epidemic was averted because the people had the facts.

Claiming the need for secrecy to “protect” America from is why the federal government has classified the number of rolls of toilet paper it has in stock, a satiric plot against Santa Claus, and what cocktails former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet preferred. About 4,000 federal officials have the authority to classify documents. For every dollar spent declassifying documents, executive branch agencies spend about $120 to create and keep documents secret, according to an investigation by OpentheGovernment.org, a coalition of 33 national journalism and consumer organizations. Last year, the federal government classified 15.6 million documents, about 10 percent more than the previous year, and 4.3 times the number classified in 1995, according to the National Archives.

The Bush administration, charged former Vice President Al Gore November 2003, has used “unprecedented secrecy and deception in order to avoid accountability to the Congress, the courts, the press and the people. . . . Rather than accepting our traditions of openness and accountability, this Administration has opted to rule by secrecy and unquestioned authority.”

The Bush Administration “reveals a pattern of secrecy and dishonesty in the service of secrecy,” wrote Walter Cronkite in his syndicated newspaper column in April 2004. Cronkite, a World War II combat correspondent, and former CBS-TV anchor who covered 11 presidential administrations, and was once known as the “most trusted man in America,” was unrelenting: “[T]his administration believes that how it runs the government is its business and no one else’s. It is certainly not the business of Congress. And if it’s not the business of the people’s representatives, it’s certainly no business of yours or mine.” Cronkite concluded, “The tight control of information, as well as the dissemination of misleading information and outright falsehoods, conjures up a disturbing image of a very different kind of society. Democracies are not well-run nor long-preserved with secrecy and lies.

The “zeal for secrecy adds up to a victory for the terrorists,” said Bill Moyers, former press secretary to Lyndon Johnson, publisher of Newsday, and winner of more than 30 Emmys for television news and documentaries. “Never has there been an administration like the one in power today, so disciplined in secrecy, so precisely in lock-step in keeping the information from the people at large and in defiance of the Constitution from their representatives in Congress,” said Moyers in September 2004.

Even John Dean, White House legal counsel for Richard Nixon, whose penchant for secrecy was a defining part of his administration, finds government secrecy under the current administration to be excessive. In Worse Than Watergate (2004), Dean wrote that “George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney have created the most secretive presidency in my lifetime. . . .Not only does this secrecy far exceed anything at the Nixon White House, but much of the Bush­Cheney secrecy deals with activities similar to Nixon’s. [It was] a time of unaccountable and imperial presidency.”

“Patriotism means . . . not trying to hide from accountability through excessive secrecy and privacy,” said Gen. Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme commander, in January 2004.

Folded within the Administration’s penchant for secrecy are lengthy delays and the highest number of denials in history for release of non-classified public documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

If the secrecy imposed by the White House upon the public’s right to know applied only to federal documents, it would be bad enough, but the Bush Administrations beliefs and attitudes have flooded all state and local governments. It shouldn’t take an epidemic, fueled by public ignorance, to prove that secrecy is not what the Founding Fathers demanded of government.

WALTER BRASCH, professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, is an award-winning syndicated columnist and the author of 15 books, most of them about social issues, the First Amendment, and the media. His forthcoming book is America’s Unpatriotic Acts; The Federal Government’s Violation of Constitutional and Civil Liberties (Peter Lang Publishing.) You may contact Brasch at brasch@bloomu.edu or at www.walterbrasch.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an analysis of the history, economics, and politics of fracking, as well as its environmental and health effects.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 21, 2017
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Finance as Warfare: the IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt
CJ Hopkins
Goose-stepping Our Way Toward Pink Revolution
John Wight
Firestarter: the Unwelcome Return of Tony Blair
Roger Harris
Lenin Wins: Pink Tide Surges in Ecuador…For Now
Shepherd Bliss
Japanese American Internment Remembered, as Trump Rounds Up Immigrants
Boris Kagarlitsky
Trump and the Contradictions of Capitalism
Robert Fisk
The Perils of Trump Addiction
Deepak Tripathi
Theresa May: Walking the Kingdom Down a Dark Alley
Sarah Anderson
To Save Main Street, Tax Wall Street
Howard Lisnoff
Those Who Plan and Enjoy Murder
Franklin Lamb
The Life and Death Struggle of the Children of Syria
Binoy Kampmark
A Tale of Two Realities: Trump and Israel
Kim C. Domenico
Body and Soul: Becoming Men & Women in a Post-Gender Age
Mel Gurtov
Trump, Europe, and Chaos
Stephen Cooper
Steinbeck’s Road Map For Resisting Donald Trump
February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
Thomas Knapp
Florida’s Shenanigans Make a Great Case for (Re-)Separation of Ballot and State
Jordan Flaherty
Best Films of 2016: Black Excellence Versus White Mediocrity
Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Destruction of Mosul
Norman Pollack
Self-Devouring Reaction: Governmental Impasse
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail