The Bush administration is sweeping vast amounts of public information behind a curtain of secrecy in the name of fighting terrorism, using 50 to 60 loosely defined security designations that can be imposed by officials as low-ranking as government clerks, the Boston Globe reports. The public is losing access to large amounts of information through terms such as “For Official Use Only,” “Sensitive But Unclassified,” “Not for Public Dissemination,” and what Congress has estimated as 50 to 60 other designations developed by federal agencies to keep the public from seeing unclassified information.
Although some of these secrecy terms predate the Bush administration, advocates of open government say their use has grown sharply over the past four years. The State Department has decided not to tabulate attacks in the annual terrorism report. Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA and State Department terrorism specialist, contended that the decision occurred after early results showed that attacks jumped again, undercutting Bush’s claim to be winning the war on terrorism. “If you can control the flow of information, you often can control the process itself,” said Pete Weitzel of the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government. “I think they believe that’s the most effective way to govern, and so that’s what they sought out to do.” Some Republicans worry that the government is being too secretive. Two Texas Republicans, Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Lamar Smith, have sponsored a bill to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act by closing loopholes, speeding up responses to FOIA requests, and establishing an FOIA hotline service.