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Justice to Tackle Federal Secrecy Abuses

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Posted on Sep 22, 2009
CIA / JFK Presidential Library

How about that Eric Holder? The Justice Department plans to make it harder for the government to hide behind “national security” in legal cases—a process that has been abused since a highly flawed Supreme Court decision first allowed wide latitude in such matters.

Congress may still take up the issue, setting clearer guidelines for the executive and judiciary.  —PS

New York Times:

The new policy, which could be announced as early as Wednesday, would require approval by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. if military or espionage agencies wanted to assert the privilege to withhold classified evidence sought in court or to ask a judge to dismiss a lawsuit at its onset.

“The department is adopting these policies and procedures to strengthen public confidence that the U.S. government will invoke the privilege in court only when genuine and significant harm to national defense or foreign relations is at stake and only to the extent necessary to safeguard those interests,” says a draft of a memorandum from Mr. Holder laying out the policy and obtained by The New York Times.

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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, September 23, 2009 at 11:22 pm Link to this comment

I think that no secret should last more than 6 months before
becoming a matter of public record.
Generally speaking I think Jim
Yell is right.  However there are matters of national security that not
making them public should be so classified if not permanently then for
multiple decades.  I used to work for aerospace and involved in many
secret projects so I have some familiarity with what kinds of things are
vital to the safety of the country.  But there are a massive number of
policies that become politicized and more often than not has little if
anything to do with sensitive safety of the country.  But that has always
been a problem.  Seems like it is better to err on the side of safety than
open the floodgates to terrorism.  The proposal of Justice Department
new limits will minimize the ignorance of a public that is rather blasé
about it anyway but nevertheless will make it easier to prosecute those
empowered by government office who abuse invasion of privacy.  Heck
I hate standing at the teller window at a bank and discussing my
private money machinations for all in line to hear, or giving my
telephone number to a clerk when I buy something at the local home
builder supply store or DVD shop.  Too much is open to the public
nose that isn’t anybody’s business. 

There are bills being proposed in Congress that would urge the courts
to find a way for lawsuits to proceed, even if particular documents or
information are withheld for national security purposes. Some of these
bills would also require judges to take a more investigative look at
executive branch claims that certain evidence cannot be used in court
because its disclosure would lead to “significant harm” of the country,
thus hiding some indiscretion the executive principles would commit. 
The new policy, however, would intervene and impede such legislation. 
Put it to bed so to speak.  Legislation would take it out of the hands of
judges who might be easily swayed by politics since many judges are
elected not appointed or have private interaction with many politicians. 
Either way, there is more likelihood abuses get an excuse.  So is speed
the criteria to repair a system that is weak or is depth of a lasting law
more important since policies can change with a change of
administration and appointments of the Head of Justice Department?

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By Jim Yell, September 23, 2009 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What do we know? We know that things are kept secret from the American people supposedly because the government wants to keep it secret from our enemies, but too frequently the so called enemies have knowledge of the supposed secrets and only American Citizens, who should be the ones who know are kept away from the secrets that aren’t really secret at all.

Looking at this strange dance with truth, would make a person wonder if the whole idea is not to keep information secret from our enemies, but to create such a vast amount of official secrets that politicians and business can hide the crimes they commit against the people.

I think that no secret should last more than 6 months before becoming a matter of public record. I think Americans are unlikely to be able to understand the importance of government actions if we don’t know what it is they are doing. How can we supervise our elected and appointed officials if they keep hiding their crimes from the American People by the fiction of “Top Secret”?

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By Jess Money, September 23, 2009 at 11:44 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“A good start?” BS. This was leaked on the day that Judge Vaughn Walker is scheduled to hear arguments on the Al Haramain case in Northern California. Here’s how blogger BMAZ described the government’s problems:

“The al-Haramain case is a perfect storm of problems for the government, there is warrantless wiretapping, the surveillance invaded an attorney-client relationship, there is known proof in the form of the sealed surveillance log under the protective custody of the court, and at least some of the surveillance is known to have occurred during the period after the infamous “John Ashcroft hospital scene” when Jim Comey and other DOJ officials revolted and the Bush Administration was unquestionably illegally operating their program under the insufficient signature of White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales.

But the monster problem that may be lurking beneath even this surface is that when Bush’s DOJ submitted declarations to the court describing their program and why state secrets were being invoked in 2006, they did not describe the underlying process by which they picked targets, to wit data mining. And the existence of data mining is a huge problem, because all activities in that regard had been rendered illegal and were specifically defunded by Congress in the Appropriations bill for that year.”

The DOJ is hoping to sway Judge Walker with this dog-and-pony show about “policy reform”. Fortunately, so far the judge has shown nothing but scorn for the government’s tactics and will probably do so again.

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By Rodger Lemonde, September 23, 2009 at 10:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

WOW this is about fifty years over due. Misuse of
security classifications should be a felony with long
jail terms and no statute of limitations. Add to that a
special inquest process that automatically has full
clearance to access all security files on demand with
no redactions from all agencies.

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Purple Girl's avatar

By Purple Girl, September 23, 2009 at 4:49 am Link to this comment

A Policy is far faster to enact than trying topush through legislation On the Hill. So at least the DOJ would be putting something in place as a starting point, but Congress must follow up with a bill to re enforce it. We’ve already seen how the Exec Branch is able to disregard laws, and certainly mere policies.
It’s a good start, but we need it also written in as Law. I commend Holder and the DOJ for getting the ball rolling in the right direction.

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