SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
The Bush-Cheney Administration will be remembered for decades for its shamelessly political manipulation of security classifications. A number of general themes have emerged. One is that when documents are stamped “secret” (or better yet “top secret”) this is far more likely to mean “this would be politically embarrassing to us if it got out” than “this affects the nation’s security.” And “embarrassment” covers a sliding scale. Sometimes it would simply make the administration look stupid or inept. On other occasions, it would actually link people to their crimes—as when torture and other serious mistreatment of prisoners is concerned, or the warrantless surveillance practices which are so much in the news.
In both cases, the “secret” conduct involves felonies. But such things are “secret” only so long as political interests hold firm. As soon as it’s politically expedient to leak secrets, that happens–no questions asked and no investigations launched. Witness two examples of Administration-sourced disclosures of “secrets” just in the last week.
In an interview with Fox News, House G.O.P. leader John Boehner revealed that a FISA court judge had made a ruling against the Administration which blocked a surveillance program. He disclosed details of the ruling and of the program—both of which the Administration had, up to that point, insisted were highly classified and compartmentalized information, the disclosure of which would severely harm national security, as the Washington Post revealed today.
The Administration’s reaction? No problem. Boehner is supporting the Administration’s efforts to secure the amendment of FISA. And, hey, what the hell, it was on Fox News. Apparently, disclosure of classified information is only a problem when Democrats do it and it’s in opposition to the Administration’s various power grabs.
Or consider a second case. Last week, Alberto Gonzales perjured himself repeatedly in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. One of the most egregious of several perjuries had to do with his account of his visit to the hospital bedside of John Ashcroft to extract the ailing attorney general’s signature on a document. Gonzales’s account flatly contradicted that of the vastly more credible former Deputy Attorney General James Comey, and the next day, FBI Director Robert Mueller also contradicted Gonzales, producing what one source call a “new ice age” between the Attorney General and the FBI. In order to try to protect Gonzales from mounting calls for appointment of a special prosecutor or for impeachment hearings, an Administration source leaked to the New York Times and the Washington Post specific information about the changed nature of the surveillance program—which involves data mining—in order to help Gonzales make a case that his irreconcilable statement stemmed from a “different understanding” from Comey and Mueller, not from a conscious falsehood. Again, allegedly extremely sensitive material was passed to the media; it was done by the Bush White House; and it was done to bail out an attorney general in extremis.
All of this points to the role played by security classifications in the Bush-Cheney Administration: partisan politics, 24/7.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm
Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Ratio of the average cost of a gallon of gas in Britain last September to that of a gallon of Starbucks coffee:
Her Majesty's Customs and Excise (London)/Starbucks Coffee Company (London)/Harper's research
The faculty of embarrassment was located in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex by neurologists who made brain-damaged subjects sing along to “My Girl” and then listen to their own singing played back without musical accompaniment.
Greece evacuated 72,000 people from the town of Thessaloniki while an undetonated World War II–era bomb was excavated from beneath a gas station.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."