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Milton J. Madison - An American Refugee Now Living in China, Where Liberty is Ascending

Federalism, Free Markets and the Liberty To Let One's Mind Wander. I Am Very Worried About the Fate of Liberty in the USA, Where Government is Taking people's Lives ____________________________________________________________________________________________ "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Tolerance in the face of tyranny is no virtue." -Barry Goldwater-

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Secrets Or Not?

I have argued that there are two major reasons why certain government information should be kept confidential and secret.
1. From a business perspective, lets say that the President needs advice on matters and he asks for a variety of opinions from various industry leaders. If these industry leaders are assured confidentiality, then they can speak truthfully on their challenges, experiences and plans. As long as the information is not to be released they can argue their opinions, even if they are to the benefit of the companies that they work for, which is the business leaders job. However, if this information will subsequently released, then it is incumbent upon the business leader to not talk about sensitive information, new technologies and other information that a quick release may damage the competitiveness of the company. Information gathering for the purpose of decision making where it will be released for outside consumption can be hindered.

2. National security information critical to the defense of the US, particularly that which is timely and sensitive in nature. During WWII, there was a total blackout of sensitive information, as there should be since the country needed the advantage of keeping the enemy in the dark on the nation's plans and future actions. The confidentiality of secret information is obvious to the pursuit of winning a war as it was during many of the past wars. Information secrecy is critical to the safety of troops, people pursuing the strategies, allies collaborating in the war effort and the successful prosecution and winning of the conflict.
In example #1 above, Democrats have sued the Administration to release information on meetings designed to gather confidential discussions with energy company executives for the preparation on setting of energy policy.

The congressional Democrats cited their oversight responsibilities as precedent for obtaining the information. However, the desire for the access to the information was not for all confidential meetings on the setting of all policy, but just on energy policy. For me this is a contrived argument on several levels.

First, congressional oversight responsibilities do not require them seeing all the information seen by the executive branch. They too can gather their own information and should be doing so. In-fact, they can request the same executives to testify. But they know that they cannot compel these executives to release information that may potentially be damaging to their shareholders without offering confidentially themselves. So, therefore, reducing the political value of that information. But it would, as confidential information, be valuable in the setting of policy.

Second, seeking just the meetings on the setting of energy policy does not pass the smell test and reeks of political posturing. Democrats plan on using the potential information selectively to create certain impressions whereas the Administration would be unable to defend or respond in-kind, since they promised confidentiality. In other words, access to the information allows Democrats to reveal selectively what would appear to be damaging while the Administration would be precluded from revealing defending information from the same meetings due to their promise of confidentially.

Third, seeking just the information on just the energy policy and not all confidential meetings points to the political use of the information and not policy use. Why would congressional Democrats be interested in just that info if they are arguing that their oversight roles require it? Additionally, past Presidents have not been forced to reveal confidential information wholesale so there is no precedent doing so. Even if there were precedents, it is worthwhile long-term goal to create confidentially in these situations for to promote information gathering.

Fourth, by allowing outside access to confidential information, executives may not be as forthcoming in ANY area due to the chance that this information may become part of the public domain. In fact, in order to do their jobs, executives may be precluded from participating since they cannot be compelled to reveal information publicly that damage the competitiveness of their employers. Therefore, automatic risk of release of confidential information will hinder government capabilities for all future administrations going forward.

On the second point, I think that confidentially and secrecy of information and intelligence for military, both defensive and offensive in nature is necessary, particularly in a time of war or dangerous conflicts. It seems natural and reasonable that a sovereign nation seeks to safeguard these things for its own safety.

The reasoning and right to print recent stories on information gathering techniques revealed by the press centered on the risk to individual rights where there was concern over these rights being infringed upon over the national security value of this information. To me privacy concerns are not a particularly compelling argument to expose these programs unless one argues that the risks to Americans from terrorism are not very high. I think to argue that the risks to American lives or the lives of other peoples around the world from terrorists, particularly after September 11th, the Bali bombings, the Madrid bombings and the London bombings almost a year ago, being low would be very reckless. It is very difficult to argue that there is little risk or argue that the costs in deaths of innocents or civilians are worth the nebulous protections of individual information confidentiality of the ilk being discussed.

I think that the press, and particularly the New York Times, in its quest to either degrade the abilities of the Administration to gather information on terrorists, to embarrass or frustrate Bush, simply a vendetta by the NYT against the administration or the papers own narrow purpose of scooping news or writing very revealing information in its quest for notoriety or Pulitzer prices at the potential cost of greater terror attacks resulting in strangling the ability to monitor or gather information on these Islamic terrorist thugs is indeed very troubling. [nice long sentence, huh?]

Either you think that we are at war or we aren't. If you are willing to risk the lives of your family, friends or neighbors so that some Muslim terrorist thug can be protected by laws designed to protect law abiding citizens is just a mockery of all that our nation stands for. To demand that we apply rules and laws that were designed for completely other purposes in order to protect something that most of don't even care about is silly.

If one cares so much about the risks of information getting into the governments hands that could be used for other purposes than the prosecution of the War on Terror, then please design a system that provides the coveted protections and provides the needed TIMELY access to WOT useful information. Its up to those that want this protection not us that don;t value the privacy aspects.


At 9:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The congressional Democrats cited their oversight responsibilities as precedent for obtaining the information.

Use of the word "precedent" is incorrect; there is no preceding action or established legal situation which can reasonably be applied to this instance.

"Pretext" would be the best word to use.


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