Issue 95, Fall 2004

Among the millions of documents the government has classified to protect national security is information about the favorite cocktail of the Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, and a joke about terrorists attacking Santa Claus.

Other information kept under wraps from the public and Congress is not so benign:

  • Documents that describe the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison;
  • Criteria the federal government uses in deciding who to put on a "no-fly" list;
  • A study that revealed leakage in 40 percent of Army chemical warfare masks;
  • Contacts between energy companies and the Vice-President’s energy task force;
  • Communications between the Defense Department and the Vice-President regarding contracts awarded to Halliburton;
  • White House memoranda about Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction;
  • The cost estimates of Medicare prescription drug legislation. 

These and other abuses are detailed in studies by Representative Henry A. Waxman and others.

George W. Bush is not the first president with a predilection for secrecy. The rapid escalation of secrecy under the Bush Administration, however, made transparent by the committees investigating 9/11 and the nation’s intelligence failures, has alarmed government officials as well as the public, and set off a flurry of Congressional hearings.

In September, Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of CA, released a report citing an "unparalleled assault on the principle of open government," asserting that the Bush Administration evades the federal laws that govern classified information and freedom of information. It also reveals how secrecy—a form of suppression of information"subverts the public’s right to know, impoverishes the collective knowledge base, and precludes Congress, the media, and the public from assessing public policy and holding public officials accountable.

The report is accompanied by a major proposal, The Restore Open Government Act of 2004, to "restore the presumption of disclosure, ease public oversight of critical infrastructure safeguards, restore historians’ access to presidential records, address excessive overclassification, and ease challenging agencies that are improperly withholding information." For the full report, see Rep. Waxman’s website:

For more information on material the government classifies, see www.openthegovernment. org, which says that 14 million documents were classified last year"an increase of 60 percent since 2001, and that Freedom of Information requests have tripled in the last six years with no increase in resources, often resulting in a 4-year backlog.