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tv   [untitled]  CSPAN  June 8, 2009 9:30am-10:00am EDT

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host: joining us for the last half-hour is steven aftergood with the project on government secrecy. we have just finished talking a little about the cia and their preservation of the intelligence and a secret from congress. you heard some of that conversation. anything surprise you? guest: just that it is part of a larger issue. hal information disclosure is regulated for political advantage. the government decides what it wants to disclose. it is often not based on principle, but on what serves their interests. that is a problematic approach. host: i should point out that the president has asked james
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jones, the national security adviser, to review the recommendations on the release of classified documents. what will happen in that 90-day period? guest: the classification is not based in law but an executive order. presidents typically issue their own version to define the classification system. president obama has said i want you to look at revising the bush administration's executive order to promote greater openness and transparency. over the next 90 days the national security council is supposed to lead a review of the classification system and consider recommendations for greater transparency. host: you have put together a recommendation that will be
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published in a duel review and policy -- and the yale and policy review. you write about several levels. what are those? guest: there are three former levels. confidential, secret, and top- secret been the highest. there are also other kinds of controls on unclassified information. the pace of classifications, the rate at which new secrets are generated has steadily increased up to 23 million last year. that is mind-boggler. we're generating tremendous numbers of secrets and not all are legitimate or valid. the policy challenged is how we can reduce its secrecy down to the necessary minimum and eliminates a various secrets.
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-- and eliminate spurious secrets? host: it is by executive order that the president controls classification. he cannot have oversight on all the incidents, so must fall within specific departments. who within an agency is designated to oversee that? guest: that is right. the president delegates his own classification authority to two dozen different officials, agency heads who in turn delegate that authority to other officials under their jurisdiction for a total of about 4000 individuals in the executive branch authorized to create new classified information. the system is fragmented and
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distributed across the government. one of my point is that any reform of government secrecy has to take place not simply at the top on the level of the executive order, but must delve into the practice at each agency. at the agency level the classification decisions are made. it is at that level for the over-classification level -- where it will need to be corrected. host: is the cia the largest manufacturer of classified documents? guest: actually not. i believe it is the department of defense because it is larger and because it contains the majority of the u.s. large intelligence agencies.
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the department of defense is the single largest producer of classified information. host: we're talking about classified information and the release of it. we're also talking about the president's proposal with james joins to review the executive order. magnolia, texas on our independent line. caller: how can the country be so free was so many spies and classified orders? let me give you a scenario. what about all the recruits from al qaeda who came over on 9/11? if you were captured or tortured tell them that we're working we'resaddam over there in iraq
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and he has -- tell them that we're working with saddam and that he has wmd's. maybe that is why they will not tell us the information. host: was their release of classified -- was there an increase of classified information in the bush administration? guest: yes, by nearly and than 10 million range annually up to more than 20 million. some of that -- the bush administration is not strictly responsible for because some of it reflects the creation of new secrets in electronic form which tend to grow more quickly than paper documents do. what is true is that secrecy increased dramatically during
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the bush administration and with tremendous adverse consequences in areas of the decision to go to war, questions of warrantless surveillance, detention, prisoner interrogations -- their major departures in u.s. policy that were carried out secretly. and in my opinion without adequate deliberation. host: in your paper on classified information you write about a number of congressional attempts in the past to reform the cia and the practice of how classified information is released. what has worked so far? guest: one of the frustrating things is that this is not new. people have been talking about it for 50 years.
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we can be certain it is not enough to complain or to criticize. we need to find new solutions and a purchase if we will have any hope of fixing the problem. in the past several decades there have been a couple of experiments that have produced real reductions in secrecy. one is a 1995 program by the department of energy to carry out what they called a fundamental classification policy review. they did it top to bottom review of all their classification guides, the lists of things the classified at what level, and asked if it still needs to be classified. in many cases the answer was no. one of my suggestions is that other classifying agencies need to do what the department of energy did in 1995.
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throw out many of the obsolete practices and streamline the system. host: thus the pressure for requests based on the freedom of information -- has that made more information available? guest: surely it has. lots of things would never be made available at no one asks for them. agencies have not had an obligation in most cases to proactively distribute information. hopefully, that is something that will change. the freedom of information act has been a vital tool. its limitation is that it is focused on individual documents or sets of documents, not on information policy system-wide. host: the next caller is from
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tennessee on our republican line. caller: we have recently seen an example of how releasing secrets when the president's office put out a map to our nuclear sites -- i live 20 miles away from one in tennessee -- even showing which store -- which door to go through. we have nancy pelosi in charge and now they have reduced these documents? it is a danger to all of america and no one seems to care. when we went to war the congress was briefed on soaddam who was known to all the world to have weapons and he was firing at our plans.
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guest: bacall refers to a united states government declaration to the international atomic energy agency which produced a list of u.s. civilian nuclear research activities with the brief description and a description of their location. this document was not classified. it was specifically unclassified. i read it through and i honestly did not see anything in their that was not already in the public domain. i do not believe it poses any security threat to safety of residents or the facilities. host: you write that genuine national security secrecy is diluted in an ocean of unnecessary bureaucratic secrets and the famed from time to time by abuse in the form of
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political secrecy. the enduring public policy problem is to disentangle the legitimate from the illegitimate. guest: that is right. you see a mix of the good, bad, and ugly. there are things that need to be classified, clearly. the identity of confidential intelligence sources. design details of advanced military operations, sensitive diplomatic negotiations -- when they're classified they serve national interests and if exposed, then the nation's security is diminished. the problem is that the system it encompasses all whole mass of other kinds of information that has no business being classified.
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it deprives the public of the information oxygen it needs. host: from the pentagon papers to the current date, have they made classified information -- does it always conduct bad, you know, bad things? if it is a secret document, then the government must be up to something? guest: in some circles that is a reaction, but not in all circles. there are 3 million americans who hold security clearances. most understand there is a proper place for secrecy. at the same time we have seen rampant abuse of this authority
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to gain policy advantage or to avoid controversy. it needs to be, added. host: georgia, good morning, in a panic caller -- independent caller. caller: highs and 28 years in the military and carried a secret clearance. i want to correct you on something you said. he said that there were three classifications for security. there is a little thing in there called a need to know. if you did not need to know something even though you have a secret past, you did not have access to the material. if he does not know what he is talking about, then he should not say it. as far as classifications, if
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you want classified material released, just tell it to the democrats. "the new york time" will have it the next day. guest: need to know is not a classification order. there are only three of a rise levels. however, just the fact that one holds a clearance of a certain level does not entitle a person to access all classified information at that level. the caller is correct that you also need in addition to a security clearance, and need to know that particular information before you're supposed to have access to it. host: a comment from twitter, if there's something so secret that our fate as a nation hangs in the balance, then by no means is it legitimate. would you agree or disagree with that? guest: i am not sure i
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understand. there are sensitive things that require protection and are protected. host: you write about a number of congressional and other moves made to change the system. the 9/11 commission singled out secrecy as a problem. has any of that happened since that report? guest: some, yes. within the government there has been an increase in information- sharing and a lowering of internal barriers. there has also been enactment of a law to require annual
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publication of the intelligence budget trouble. in the 2007 and 2008 the budget total for the national intelligence program was disclosed. however, when i went to the office of the director of national intelligence and said, it is great that you disclosed these numbers, matt please have the 2006 number -- and they said oh, no, that is classified. how could that be? how could the current information be revealed but passed information remain classified? i appeal that an appeal came back saying that it is still classified. to me that is an illustration of the kind of irrational classification prevalent. hopefully the president's reform process will help to correct that.
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host: a democratic caller from fort worth, texas. caller: before we invaded iraq, saddam hussein's intelligence chief habbish met with the cia in jordan and told them there were no weapons. that saddam hussein did not want that out because of his neighbors. bush and chinese silenced of that. he was paid $5 million and currently lives in jordan. -- bush and cheney silence that. i think it is important information. senators grassley and baucus both received the most money from the health-care industry. host: would you like to reply to the first part?
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guest: a lot of our recent history in the previous administration up until today remains shrouded in secrecy. there is a lot of archaeological work required to document the history of the last 8-10 years and overcome its secrecy. the president has asked jim jones to oversee the 90-day review of classification. some critics have pointed out that the heads of agencies doing the review have not asked for public input. is it necessary? guest: it is desirable. the primary customer for declassified intermission is the public. one would think that it is important to get public input on expectations and demands -- for
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the classified information. until there will be an informal advisory group. the board will organize some kind of session to receive public comment and suggestion in the process. host: has technology exacerbated the problem, particularly with e-mails over the last 10 years? the volume of those must also increase the volume of documents that are classified. guest: it has had both positive and negative effects. it has drastically increased the production and distribution of records. the technology ought to be able to facilitate declassification and secrecy.
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one of the occam's we would like to see from the current presidential review process is to require in the future that when agencies de myspace classify the records they scan them into digital format and post them on the web. -- when they declassify the records they scan them into digital format. if there were on the web they would be vastly more useful and accessible to everyone rather than just in the national archives. good morning on our republican line. caller: good morning. i have a couple of questions. you can probably into them better than any other guest on c-span recently. has the obama administration continued the warrantless wiretapping program? guest: um --you know, i hesitate to answer that question because
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i do not know what i do not know. formally the bush administration's terrorist surveillance program was terminated in 2007, i believe, and brought under the authority of the foreign intelligence surveillance court. what the court is doing is issuing very broad kinds of authorization which are not individual warrants. one could say that warrantless surveillance is continuing, in essenca sense, but president b's program has been terminated. caller: i appreciate that because it did clarify things for me. with it being this ambivalent why do think it is not front- page news on the major papers and msnbc when they made such a
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big deal out of it for a year and it is probably still on going? why is it no longer news? thank you. guest: it is a very good question. i do not think it is up to the news media to decide what business. to me the missing element here -- to decide what is new span of the missing element is congressional involvement. in the past administration we had a very assertive, energetic executive branch. we had a passive, compliant legislature, though. what i think is required is a probing, energetic inquiry on the part of congress conducted primarily in public into all of these programs, warrantless surveillance, prisoner interrogations, the decision to
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go to war. not necessarily in a hall style -- not necessarily in a hostile, prosecutorial style, but to learn the lessons of history and understand what is going on. host: california, hello on our independent mind. caller: thank you. the word secrecy is quite interesting. i do not know why the united states is throwing such a big beaucoup over waterboarding. there was recently a program talking to a terrorist who could not wait to get out of the room and he said he did not even care about this water boredom. who are we trying to impress with all this nonsense in the media?
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the media is how we get our information. host: thank you. guest: we are country that is constituted by law. a lot of us have that very little in common with some of the rest of us. we disagree about all kinds of things, but what we have in common is our constitution and a system of law. so, when their questions raised about government compliance with the law and constitution, that is a matter of profound importance. it is something that needs to be addressed. host: steven aftergood with the federation for american scientists in a report about reducing government secrecy. you write that the government has in addition to stamping things classified. why? guest: it is a natural bureaucratic phenomenon. large organizations and even small ones like to control how
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they are perceived from the outside. they do not publish their internal debates and disputes. they try to shape the way they're perceived on the outside in secrecy enables them to do that. not all of it is pernicious. most secrets are banal and of no great significance, but sometimes the authority to classify is used in a pernicious way to avoid controversy. it is that that needs to be confronted and reversed. host: you published or finding a secrecy in the yale and policy review. it is linked on our website. who do hope reads this and takes it too hard? guest: -- and takes it to heart. -- guest: anyone who can benefit
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from the background. my ideas are not above criticism and readers may have better ideas. i hope that anyone interested will get engaged and contribute. host: there's an irony that your agency was born out of the manhattan project, the most sacred of all, correct? guest: yes, and that has been a concern since 1945 at its founding. the manhattan project was in many ways the cradle of the cold war secrecy system that is still with us today. all of these things are rooted in a manhattan project and something many are still concerned with now. host: was that ever at risk of
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exposure? guest: the manhattan project was exposed not so much by journalists as by penetration by soviet spies. many of the most sensitive secrets, the technological secrets of the time down there weight quickly to the soviet union via espionage. that is a fact of life. host: david, on our it democrat s' line from oklahoma city. caller: 01 to comment on health care and our social structure. social structure is dictating government intervention, like a drowning person. do we let the person drowned deaths is our country like that, or do we throw them a preserver? we are trying to help, save our country.
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that is why we have so many government interventions -- it is necessary. i think that the secrecy problem is that our country is a democratic society and we have always felt like openness and it divulging what is going on is important, but there are some things as secret, that are so important for the protection of our country that you cannot allow this to get out. you have so many people from our foreign countries who are enemies out there trying to get this as it is, so why give it to them free? we have got to have certain things kept secret. even though the american people like to demand an inquiry -- and inquire, which sll


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