I recently published an article using secrecy as a form of regulation as theorized by the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy. The Commission, commonly referred to as the Moynihan Commission for its chairperson Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, used secrecy as a form of regulation to critique historical and ongoing U.S. government information policies.
Below is the citation and abstract for this article:
Maret, S. (2014). The Moynihan Commission’s secrecy by regulation and its value to environmental sociology. Sociological Imagination, 50(2), 105-137.
In 1997, the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy devised the model of secrecy as a form of regulation to characterize the concealment of information within the Executive Branch. This article expands on the Commission’s conceptual work, applying it to those cases where information is cloaked from public scrutiny by environmental laws and policies, and results in unequal information between parties, or asymmetry. I theorize in this article that secrecy as a form of regulation is an important model in exploring how environmental laws and policies “regulate,” conceal, ignore, and remove information from public discourse. Secrecy as a form of regulation is also shown in tension with those environmental laws and policies that mandate the right to know, thus raising questions about authentic transparency.
[Due to copyright, head to your local library and request through interlibrary loan].
The upcoming thirteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks brings with it new commentary on the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States’ (9/11 Commission) recommendations, as well as a call to declassify and further investigate claims of alleged Saudi involvement in the attacks initially made in the 2002 House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reports (this latter investigation is often simply referred to as the Joint Inquiry).
To this end, my 2013 article Freudenburg beyond borders: Recreancy, atrophy of vigilance, bureaucratic slippage, and the tragedy of 9/11* deconstructs these two official accounts by way of sociologist Bill Freudenburg’s theory of recreancy, or institutional failure as it applies to the 9/11 disaster.
* First appeared in Research in Social Problems and Public Policy, 21, pp.201- 223 (Gedenkschrift in honor of William R. Freudenburg, a life in social research, Research in Social Problems and Public Policy, 21).
Those of you familiar with the CIA’s 25 Year Program Archive CREST understand the database on the Agency’s Web site does not contain the complete full text (.pdf) of declassified records. There are two CREST systems I discovered; the abbreviated version on the CIA’s Web site and a full version on dedicated pcs at NARA in College Park, Maryland. It’s useful to note that some of the CREST docs that are not full text in the abbreviated version can be obtained in several ways: through the library subscription databases Declassified Documents Reference System (DDRS) and Digital National Security Archive, through federal agency (FOIA) reading rooms, and if unable to fund travel to NARA in College Park, through a FOIA request to the CIA’s Information and Privacy Coordinator.
On its Web site, the CIA describes CREST as
The automatic declassification provisions of Executive Order 13256 (formerly EO 12958, as amended) require the declassification of nonexempt historically valuable records 25 years or older. The EO was originally issued in April 1995 and via amendment established 31 December 2006 as the first major deadline for automatic declassification under the “25-year program”. By that date, agencies were to have completed the review of all hardcopy documents determined to contain exclusively their equities. For CIA, the 2006 deadline covered the span of relevant documents originally dating from the establishment of the CIA after WWII through 1981. (“CREST: 25-Year Program Archive,” para 1)
Earlier this year, I traveled to the NARA mothership to search the CREST system and retrieve documents for the several projects I’m currently working on. At NARA, I was informed by staff that CREST documents could not be downloaded or emailed; in order to save and keep documents, printing only was allowed on blue paper. (I’m not sure if this is a NARA or CIA requirement). The NARA staff directed me to a wall of reams. I was told to take as much paper as I needed – when I objected, I was told the CIA supplied the paper. After printing through one and a half reams of paper, I decided printing docs I needed was unsustainable. Moreover, how would I transport loads of paper back to my office? Pay baggage fees? Send through media mail? I found none of these scenarios sustainable or cost effective, especially from a larger environmental and natural resource considerations.
So I began to question the CIA’s policy of having two different CREST systems with separate modes of access: Why has the CIA created two different research systems, one abbreviated on the Web, and another with expanded access as standalone pcs only accessible in person at NARA? Why are CREST materials subject to FOIA, another bureaucratic level set for the public to gain access to CIA historical materials that have been declassified?
I also thought about the hearings on the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996 or E-FOIA Amendments (Pub. L. No. 104-231, 110 Stat. 3048, 5 U.S.C. § 552, Supp. II 1996), especially Rep. Randy Tate’s comments. Wasn’t e-FOIA characterized as a means to get FOIA docs – and I’m folding in CREST docs here – to the people?
H.R. 3802 puts FOIA information online on agency websites, ensuring that citizens in every home—in every town—and in every city—across the Nation will be able to access Government information from the comfort of their own homes. My neighbors will be able to turn on their computers—click onto the internet—and download information made accessible by the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996. Our Government should be userfriendly by making an effort to deliver information to Americans. (142 Cong. Rec. H10450, September 17, 1996)
In the end, and although I would still need to scan documents, I decided not to print documents on blue paper and instead “batch” FOIA requests by subject/research project in order to obtain the CREST docs I needed. None of the requests I filed exceeded 100 pages.
In February, I received one full request satisfied by the CIA. However, three other requests for CREST documents submitted in February were folded into one request by the CIA. In March, the CIA informed me that my CREST requests – now one FOIA – was subject to a charge of $21.50. The CIA cited CFR Title 32, Chapter XIX Section 1900.13j that a requestor “may not file a series of multiple requests which are merely subdivisions of the information actually sought for the purposes of avoiding or reducing applicable fees.” An unfair accusation that any busy researcher would object to – I was being efficient and organized wasn’t I? I filed an appeal to the Information and Privacy Coordinator, and in May 2014, my appeal was denied.
So here it is: CREST is a two tiered research system. That is, if a researcher can afford to visit NARA in College Park to search the full version of CREST, they are saddled with blue paper and trying to figure out how to deliver their many documents back to homes and offices where they will need to scan materials in order to search for terms, people, and events in especially lengthy documents. Even though a researcher may print out as many documents on blue paper as they like at NARA, if they use the abbreviated version of CREST through the CIA’s Web site, and request records by way of the CIA’s policy of using FOIA to distribute CREST documents, fees are assessed over 100 pages (and researchers run the risk of having their requests folded into one request). And researchers would still need to scan the docs if they wanted to optimize their research time.
These policies are puzzling and it is imperative the CIA explain to the research community why this two-tiered system exists. The Agency, while they’re at it, might devise a cost effective – and fully accessible – “complete” CREST database. And put it on the Web.
Isn’t it customary to cite your sources? Any undergrad is acutely aware of the perils of not doing so.
Take this recent editorial on leaks (emphasis added):
There are “whistleblower leaks.” These come from individuals who believe that a politician, staffer, lobbyist, or a corporation has committed and then hid an illegal act, and violated the public trust.
The second kind of leak comes from individuals who have a self-interest in alerting the media to what may be scandals. These leaks could come from political candidates, elected and appointed officials, and those in corporate business who want to eliminate a competitor, but don’t want to have their hands dirtied by the revelation. Most of these leaks fall into the sub-category, Gossip. Far too often, the media take the allegations, do minimal investigation, publish their findings, but never ask the critical question–“Why are you telling me this?”
A third kind of leak is the “trial balloon.” A government official or corporate executive wants to find out what the public thinks of an idea or plan, but doesn’t want anyone to know who is behind it. Often, the media will report something to the effect, “Rumors abound in Washington that . . .” If opinion leaders and the public like the idea–and politicians spent millions of dollars to have polls tell them what to think–then the proposal is implemented. If there’s a negative reaction to the trial balloon, the plan is locked into obscurity, and the source is exonerated from all negative feedback.
A fourth leak, a variant of the trial balloon, is the veiled news source.
The first three descriptions of leaks, or typologies, are suggestive of Stephen Hess’ The Government/Press Connection: Press Officers and Their Offices (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1984, pp.77-79). I mentioned Hess in several editions of the Lexicon (entry on leaks) and in my commentary on the Coolidge Report and wikileaks. Hess outlines leaks as follows – kinda similar to the unattributed descriptions in the editorial, no?
Ego Leak: Giving information primarily to satisfy a sense of self.
Goodwill Leak: Information offered to “accumulate credit” as a play for a future favor.
Policy Leak: A straightforward pitch for or against a proposal using some document or insider information as the lure to get more attention than might be otherwise justified. The leak of the Pentagon Papers falls into this category.
Animus Leak: Used to settle grudges; information is released in order to cause embarrassment to another person.
Trial-Balloon Leak: Revealing a proposal that is under consideration in order to assess its assets and liabilities. Usually proponents have too much invested in a proposal to wan to leave it to the vagaries of the press and public opinion. More likely, those who send up a trial balloon want to see it shot down, and because it is easier to generate opposition to almost anything than to build support, this is the most likely effect.
Whistleblower Leak: Usually used by career personnel; going to the press may be the last resort of frustrated civil servants who feel they cannot resolve their dispute through administrative channels. Hess is careful to point out that Whistleblowing is not synonymous with leaking.
The “veiled news source,” or “cloaked” leak, appears early in the work of Seymour Hersh (1967) and Hugh M. Culbertson, whose research was supported by the American Newspaper Publishers Association. See
Culbertson, Hugh M. 1980. Leaks–A dilemma for editors as well as officials. Journalism Quarterly, 57(3): 402-535.
Culbertson, Hugh M. 1978. Veiled attribution–An element of style? Journalism Quarterly, 55(3):456-465.
Culbertson, Hugh M. and Somerick, Nancy. 1977. Variables affect how persons view unnamed news sources. Journalism Quarterly, 54(1):58-69.
Neither Hess or Hersh is mentioned in the editorial. While it can be argued that editorials aren’t scholarly (peer-reviewed) papers, it is expected we acknowledge the work of others we use. This is the public responsibility of scholars.
You can view a list of records a few colleagues and myself requested to be declassified by the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) under its Transforming Classification initiative.
The wishlist is at the PIDB’s blog at http://blogs.archives.gov/transformingclassification/?p=607#comments