Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Erasing the Past:
Everything faded into mist. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth.
-From Chapter 7 of 1984 by George Orwell.
Another second hand post from This Modern World reminded me of the passage above from 1984. The main character, Winston Smith's job at the Ministry of Truth was to rewrite documents to make the past version match the current "truth" the party expected the populace to believe. A truth that changed constantly. TWM links to this article from the NY Times Opinion Page about the CIA and Air Force conspiring to gather up and reclassify documents from the National Archives, some dating back as far as the 1950s.

And under the terms of two disturbing agreements - with the C.I.A. and the Air Force - the National Archives has been allowing officials to reclassify declassified documents, which means removing them from the public eye. So far 55,000 pages, some of them from the 1950's, have vanished. This not only violates the mission of the National Archives; it is also antithetical to the natural flow of information in an open society.

As time passes, the need for secrecy, which should always adhere to a very strict standard, usually diminishes. Apparently the C.I.A. wants to turn back the hands of time.

The new director of the National Archives, Allen Weinstein, rightly put a stop to this nonsense as soon as he heard about it. But he will need to do more than just abrogate these suspect agreements with the C.I.A. and the Air Force. He will need to figure out how they came about in the first place. The former director, John Carlin, has said he knows nothing about them. They appear to have been signed only by the assistant archivist.

What makes this all seem preposterous is that the agreements themselves prohibit the National Archives from revealing why the documents were removed.

And this one also from the NY Times where the FBI is attempting to examine and reclassify documents that may have been leaked years ago to columnist Jack Anderson who died in 2005.

The F.B.I. is seeking to go through the files of the late newspaper columnist Jack Anderson to remove classified material he may have accumulated in four decades of muckraking Washington journalism.

Mr. Anderson's family has refused to allow a search of 188 boxes, the files of a well-known reporter who had long feuded with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and had exposed plans by the Central Intelligence Agency to kill Fidel Castro, the machinations of the Iran-contra affair and the misdemeanors of generations of congressmen.

Mr. Anderson's son Kevin said that to allow government agents to rifle through the papers would betray his father's principles and intimidate other journalists, and that family members were willing to go to jail to protect the collection.

"It's my father's legacy," said Kevin N. Anderson, a Salt Lake City lawyer and one of the columnist's nine children. "The government has always and continues to this day to abuse the secrecy stamp. My father's view was that the public is the employer of these government employees and has the right to know what they're up to."

More evidence of the Bush Administration's efforts to turn back the clock to a time of increased government secrecy and surveillance and the abuses of governmental power that resulted from them. I am going to get tired of hearing myself say how much they love the idea of freedom of information in Iraq, but don't much care for it here....

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