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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

That's for me to know and you to find out

Remember that old TV show "I've Got a Secret"? It's making a comeback these days in D.C.

Two very different pieces -- on background briefings and on reclassifying previously available documents reflect an almost maniac penchant for CYA that grips government officials, a penchant that has escalated way out of proportion during the Bush administration.

Henry Kissinger turned the background briefing into an art form. For whatever reasons, probably the ego of Richard Nixon, Kissinger chose to make most of his comments on background, meaning that reporters could use the material but could not name their source. Kissinger took the briefing to ludicrous levels -- with one perhaps apocryphal story saying he was once referred to as a senior administration official traveling on the secretary of state's plane.

Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for a background briefing but more often than not the reasons are ludicrous and the goal is often to say outrageous things without having the blame pinned on you. While reporters are getting better about using anonymous nasty quotes, there is a way to go to ending this abuse, which is bipartisan.

Far more troubling is the penchant to bury mistakes with a classified stamp -- or do in your enemies by lifting the top secret label. The most obvious recent example is the Valerie Plame affair -- and Deadeye Dick's interesting little comment to Brit Hume that he has the power to declassify information.

But trying to put information back into the box, after it has been public for years, to cover up embarrassments is an abuse of authority -- not to mention idiotic. It's also not surprising that the tactic has escalated over the past few years.

When a former CIA chief labels intelligence information a "slam dunk" only to be proven horribly wrong, the tendency is to cover your butt -- and hide your mistakes from the public.

This is not to say that there's never an appropriate time for secrecy. This is an effort to say that this administration abuses secrecy like no one since Richard Nixon. And you know what he was hiding.


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