Home > government > Government Keeping Secrets? Yawn…

Government Keeping Secrets? Yawn…

Thursday, May 26, 2011, 17:55 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

TOP SECRETVia Glenn Reynolds this morning comes an article at Wired.com in which Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) reveals that the federal government is doing secret things behind the scenes where nobody sees, apparently in conflict with existing laws.

Congress is set to reauthorize three controversial provisions of the surveillance law as early as Thursday. But Wyden says that what Congress will renew is a mere fig leaf for a far broader legal interpretation of the Patriot Act that the government keeps to itself — entirely in secret. Worse, there are hints that the government uses this secret interpretation to gather what one Patriot-watcher calls a “dragnet” for massive amounts of information on private citizens; the government portrays its data-collection efforts much differently.

“We’re getting to a gap between what the public thinks the law says and what the American government secretly thinks the law says,” Wyden tells Danger Room in an interview in his Senate office. “When you’ve got that kind of a gap, you’re going to have a problem on your hands.”

What exactly does Wyden mean by that? As a member of the intelligence committee, he laments that he can’t precisely explain without disclosing classified information. But one component of the Patriot Act in particular gives him immense pause: the so-called “business-records provision,” which empowers the FBI to get businesses, medical offices, banks and other organizations to turn over any “tangible things” it deems relevant to a security investigation.

“It is fair to say that the business-records provision is a part of the Patriot Act that I am extremely interested in reforming,” Wyden says. “I know a fair amount about how it’s interpreted, and I am going to keep pushing, as I have, to get more information about how the Patriot Act is being interpreted declassified. I think the public has a right to public debate about it.”

Color me unsurprised that the public is sometimes kept in the dark. A lot of what is secret is kept that way for national security reasons. Back in the days when the Den Father worked for defense contractors, he talked about working on programs so secret that the number of people in the country who knew about them (as opposed to small components of them) could be counted on your hands. Apparently, they are programs that, if their cover were ever blown, would be shut down so immediately and completely that not so much as a speck of evidence would remain that they ever existed. The phrase “I could tell you but then I’d have to shoot you” isn’t all that far off the mark; DF managed programs so secret that he could have been subject to execution by firing squad for disclosing them (and presumably still could be, having never gotten his telegram from the Secretary of Defense informing him of their declassification, which is why I have no examples to share. Sorry.)

The stuff DF worked on was so high-level that he negotiated the contracts directly with generals and admirals, so hush-hush that he took business trips to undisclosed locations, so sensitive that we were once prevented from driving over the border from New Hampshire into Canada during a summer camping trip because Dad hadn’t given advance notice to the Defense Investigative Service (now called the Defense Security Service) so they could assign an agent to shadow him while he was outside the border. Then there was the time when we watched the movie Three Days of the Condor on television and DF announced, “There is more truth there than most people will ever know,” leading me to wonder if he were really a CIA agent. To this day, I still don’t know for sure. 😉

But seriously, the lesson I learned, even without knowing specifics or the depth of the secrecy involved, was that our government does a whole lot behind our backs. And if they can keep secrets like multi-billion dollar manufacturing programs involving thousands of people who don’t even know what they’re working on, they are certainly capable of keeping secrets about other activities that have nothing to do with national security and of which we might not approve, to say the least.

That’s why I’m glad that Wyden and others are pushing back. I’m all for keeping the country safe, preventing attacks, and all that. Certain members of Congress are briefed on secret operations dealing with such issues, and those members owe it to their constituents—the American people—to guard the line and push back if that line is crossed. Wyden seems to be doing so in a responsible manner that indicates he is aware of his obligation to safeguard legitimate security secrets. I hope other Senators and Representatives realize that they are all that stand between us and tyranny.

Categories: government
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s