Friday, January 21, 2022

America’s Secret Government Crisis

America’s founding generation believed that an informed citizenry was vital to the survival of the Republic. Writing to theologian and philosopher Richard Price on January 8, 1789, Thomas Jefferson observed with satisfaction how his countrymen had come to largely embrace the new constitutional form of government just recently adopted.

“A sense of this necessity, and a submission to it,” Jefferson told Price, “is to me a new and consolatory proof that wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”

But what if that same government takes deliberate, calculated steps to try to ensure that the public is not well informed about the government’s own actions, especially those carried out under a legal cloak of secrecy?

Over 200 years after Jefferson’s missive to Price, the United States now has a sprawling national security bureaucracy that has created tens of millions of classified documents. In 2017 alone (the last year for which figures are available), federal employees created some 50 million classified records. Estimated cost to you, the taxpayer? Around $18 billion.

What’s worse is that many of the classified records created since World War I (when the US government classification system essentially began) – tens of millions of pages – remain classified to this day, out of the reach of the public, historians, journalists and others interested in understanding the totality of America’s history. Here are some examples, based on just the last six years of my own research at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and from using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).