Freedom of Information

The Times has a story about how the National Security Agency is reclassifying material that has been declassified:

America is re-classifying information about its nuclear arsenal, much of it decades old, that has been in the public domain for several years.


Researchers at the National Security Archive, an independent library that belongs to The George Washington University, found that officials from the Pentagon and US Department of Energy have been trawling through reports that have been released to the public and deleting numbers of missiles, despite some of the statistics being decades old.

Dr William Burr, a senior analyst at the archive, said that figures released in the 1960s and 1970s, including some in annual reports published the Secretary of Defence, had been re-designated as secret.

Obviously, some things can and should be kept secrets. I wouldn’t expect a government to tell the entire world what its nuclear launch codes are, for instance. But this is just ridiculous. It’s the current Republican Congress’s version of $600 toilet seats.

I know it’s impractical to mandate that everything must be public unless the government can demonstrate that secrecy is necessary for national security. But, beyond the inherent idiocy of spending millions of dollars on hiding information that any interested terrorists already have, there have to be some guidelines that prevent classifying things that are merely embarrassing.

The public doesn’t have the right to know if a CIA spy is right now bugging high-level Iranian officials in order to determine the locations of Iran’s nuclear facility. However, the public does have the right to know if the CIA tried doing something similar in Iraq ten years ago and failed spectacularly. National security does not equal protecting bureaucrats from embarrassment.

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