Friday, August 06, 2004

Shhh! Part 4

Privacy. How long before it's an alien concept, a quaint reminder of "simpler" times? I'm sure a lot of us recall the descriptions in 1984 of the cameras in every room, watching people all the time - or at least reminding them that they might be being watched, they never knew. Now such cameras, while not (yet) in our homes, surround us. We are recorded at the bank, tracked in the supermarket, scanned as we pass by corporate offices, scrutinized at government facilities. We are observed, measured, tabulated, indexed, and filed.

All the while being told the audacious lie that it's for our own benefit. No, it's not for our benefit at all. So following over these few days, several items about some aspect of privacy. Who has it and who doesn't.

Increasingly, we don't. But if we don't have it, who does? Whose privacy, whose right to keep secrets, is being aggressively defended?


Of course, this particular White House administration has been notorious for stonewalling requests for information even from members of Congress. That, I'm sure, comes as no news to anyone here. Instead of that, then, Here are a few accounts of the lesser ways information vanishes these days.
Washington (AP, July 7) - Bush administration officials broke no laws in withholding from Congress estimates of the cost of the new Medicare law, says an internal investigation made public Tuesday.

The Health and Human Services Department inspector general, the agency's internal watchdog, said its three-month investigation found that administration officials used aggressive tactics to keep from Congress its much higher estimates of the legislation's cost - $100 billion more than the president and other officials were acknowledging.

Yet the effort - including threats by Thomas Scully, the administration's Medicare chief until December, to fire chief Medicare actuary Richard Foster - did not violate federal law, the inspector general said.

Scully, the administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, "has the final authority to determine the flow of information to Congress," the unsigned report said.
The matter arose when it came out that Foster's estimates were considerably higher than those the White House used in lobbying for its Medicare deform package - estimates that would have doomed the legislation, which barely survived conservative complaints about cost as it was. And indeed, when the White House released its budget proposals in January, it gave the 10-year cost as $534 billion. That's $139 billion, or more than a third, higher than the estimate it gave to Congress originally.
Foster's estimates, written during consideration of the bill, still have yet to be made public or turned over to congressional Democrats who have requested them.

In March, Thompson promised to release them and said the inspector general's investigation would clear the air. ...

But since then, he has refused to release the documents in question. House Democrats have sued for the documents in federal court and The Associated Press, which sought the same materials under the Freedom of Information Act, has appealed the withholding of 149 pages out of 162 pages that the agency acknowledges are responsive to its request.
Instead of releasing the information, the White House has once again investigated itself and once again - surprise! - found itself not guilty. It's just fine for the White House to actively hide necessary information, threaten people who could release it, lie about what they know, and then just refuse to release the data even after the fact.

And it doesn't matter even if the information is already out there: the Shrubberies will just take it back. This statement, found at Buzzflash, was released by Michael Gorman, president-elect of the American Library Association on July 30:
Last week, the American Library Association learned that the Department of Justice asked the Government Printing Office Superintendent of Documents to instruct depository libraries to destroy five publications the Department has deemed not "appropriate for external use." The Department of Justice has called for these five these public documents, two of which are texts of federal statutes, to be removed from depository libraries and destroyed, making their content available only to those with access to a law office or law library.

The topics addressed in the named documents include information on how citizens can retrieve items that may have been confiscated by the government during an investigation. The documents to be removed and destroyed include: Civil and Criminal Forfeiture Procedure; Select Criminal Forfeiture Forms; Select Federal Asset Forfeiture Statutes; Asset forfeiture and money laundering resource directory; and Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA).

ALA has submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the withdrawn materials in order to obtain an official response from the Department of Justice regarding this unusual action, and why the Department has requested that documents that have been available to the public for as long as four years be removed from depository library collections. ALA is committed to ensuring that public documents remain available to the public and will do its best to bring about a satisfactory resolution of this matter.
And if withdrawing and destroying public documents won't work, there's always the other course.
Even the phrase suggests a sort of cognitive dissonance: retroactive classification. Come again? ...

As a long-time, staunch defender of the administration's efforts to improve the nation's defenses against terrorism, as well as an ardent defender of the First Amendment, we at The Republic find ourselves uniquely positioned to say, emphatically and without qualification, that Mr. Ashcroft, this time you truly have gone too far.
The case being considered in that editorial from the July 9 Arizona Republic is that of Sibel Edmonds, about who I've posted before. She is a former FBI translator who made headlines when she went public with charges that she was fired due to her complaints about shoddy and inadequate work in the program, including mistranslated and untranslated documents and allowing politics to control the translation of intelligence.

She sued the government on the grounds that she was dismissed for being a whistle-blower. In response, the government invoked a "state secrets" privilege with the desired result.
Washington (AP, July 6) - A federal judge threw out a lawsuit Tuesday by a whistle-blower who alleged security lapses in the FBI's translator program, ruling that her claims might expose government secrets that could damage national security.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said he was satisfied with claims by Attorney General John Ashcroft and a senior FBI official that the civil lawsuit by Sibel Edmonds could expose intelligence-gathering methods and disrupt diplomatic relations with foreign governments. ...

Edmonds said the judge dismissed her lawsuit without hearing evidence from her lawyers, although the government's lawyers met with Walton at least twice privately. She noted that Walton, the judge, was appointed by President Bush.
In a touch of unintended hilarity, the judge laid down as a serious statement what we all used to use as a joke.
The judge said he couldn't explain further because his explanation itself would expose sensitive secrets.
"I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you." Ha ha.

Not only did the government block the suit, it prevented her from testifying in a case brought by 9/11 families and it "retroactively classified" both the testimony Edmonds gave to Congress in 2002 and letters from Senators Pat Leahy and Chuck Grassley to the Justice Department and FBI about Edmonds' testimony - letters which apparently got no response. When the DOJ's own inspector general did a report on the Edmonds case, that got classified as well.

(The letters from Leahy and Grassley can still be found here at The Memory Hole; Grassley's to FBI Director Robert Mueller on October 28, 2002, includes the transcript of Edmonds' appearance on "60 Minutes" the day before.)

Still, a bit of truth slipped out, as the July 29 New York Times reported.
A classified Justice Department investigation has concluded that a former F.B.I. translator at the center of a growing controversy was dismissed in part because she accused the bureau of ineptitude, and it found that the F.B.I. did not aggressively investigate her claims of espionage against a co-worker.

The Justice Department's inspector general concluded that the allegations by the translator, Sibel Edmonds, "were at least a contributing factor in why the F.B.I. terminated her services," and the F.B.I. is considering disciplinary action against some employees as a result, Robert S. Mueller III, director of the bureau, said in a letter last week to lawmakers. ...

The letter did not say what other factors, if any, beyond Ms. Edmonds's accusations may have played a part in the decision to dismiss her. In the past, federal officials have suggested that her allegations had nothing to do with her dismissal, pointing instead to what they described as her "disruptive" presence in the field office.
I'll just bet, especially since
[a]n official with knowledge of the report who spoke on condition of anonymity said investigators confirmed some of Ms. Edmonds's allegations about translation problems to be true, but could not corroborate others because of a lack of evidence. None of her accusations were disproved, the official said.
People making accurate complaints of incompetence are as a general rule "disruptive."

This, too, was not without its moment of levity. In his letter, Mueller
said the F.B.I. would work with the inspector general to determine whether any employees should be disciplined as a result. And he emphasized that he wanted to encourage all F.B.I. employees to "raise good faith concerns about mismanagement or misconduct" without fear of reprisals or intimidation.
Except, of course, for being branded "disruptive," fired, blocked from any means of redress, and having a report largely supporting your contentions classified. Other than that, no worries.

Oh, but this only happens in areas affecting national security, yes?

Well, I suppose - provided you define "national security" widely enough.
Washington (CNN, July 10) - One day after she was fired, former U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers accused the Bush administration Saturday of silencing dissenting views in the rank and file. ...

Chambers said that she didn't expect to be fired seven months after the Interior Department put her on administrative leave with pay for talking with reporters and congressional staffers about budget woes on the 620-officer force.

She was fired Friday, just two and half hours after her attorneys filed a demand for immediate reinstatement through the Merit Systems Protection Board, an independent agency that ensures federal employees are protected from management abuses. ...

"The American people should be afraid of this kind of silencing of professionals in any field," she said. "We should be very concerned as American citizens that people who are experts in their field either can't speak up, or, as we're seeing now in the parks service, won't speak up."

National Park Service officials said Chambers broke rules barring public comment about budget discussions and prohibiting lobbying by someone in her position.

Chambers said she did nothing wrong except argue for adequate funding for the Park Police, which falls under NPS authority - and perhaps fail to understand that she was required to "toe the party line."
It's estimated that the NPS operates on about 2/3 of the budget it needs to maintain and protect national parks, including so-called "icon" sites such as the Statue of Liberty.

This, too, has its bitter humor:
According to the Coalition of Concerned National Park Service Retirees, a group of more than 250 former NPS officials, the Interior Department sent out memos to park superintendents to make further reductions - and "to mislead the news media and public about the service cuts in order to avoid ... 'public controversy.'" ...

The memo argues against discussing the situation with the media, then adds that "if you feel you must inform the public through a press release," refer to "service level adjustments" rather than "cuts."
No, you're not fired. Nor are you "riffed" or "on indefinite layoff." No, you're merely a participant in a service level adjustment. But don't tell anyone: Your employment has been retroactively classified.

No comments:

// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}} document.write('');