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





















































 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal