Writing in his masterwork Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft in 1922, Max Weber showed that the “bureaucratic class” (Beamtentum) manipulated state secrets in order to undermine democratic institutions. By wielding security classifications, they could claim an information monopoly and render the parliament impotent. Weber later revealed that he was thinking in particular of the General Staff and their political machinations in the last years of World War I. Germany had been turned into all but a military dictatorship, and Weber’s study showed, correctly, that the claims of state secrecy were the single most effective tactic used to destroy the nascent Wilhelmine parliamentary democracy. Now, Max Weber never met Dick Cheney, but Cheney is just the man he had in mind; he is for America today what Ludendorff was in the third Oberste Heeresleitung in 1918. We all know what security classifications mean to Dick Cheney. You invoke them to keep your lurid dealings with oil executives, defense contractors and foreign potentates out of public sight. But then when you have a political adversary in the crosshairs, security classifications count for nothing. And today we learn just how literally true this is. Scott Shane in today’s New York Times:
For four years, Vice President Dick Cheney has resisted routine oversight of his office’s handling of classified information, and when the office in charge of overseeing classification in the executive branch objected, the vice president’s office suggested that the oversight office be shut down, according to documents released today by a Democratic congressman. The oversight office, a unit of the National Archives, appealed the issue to the Justice Department, which has not yet ruled on the matter.
Now isn’t that interesting? Note that, according to highly placed sources, an internal debate on the torture issue now raging at the highest echelons of government, there are two big torture advocates – Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales. Similarly, on the question of surrendering documents in connection with congressional subpoenas, guess who is in favor of withholding them until hell freezes over? You got it.
And now get this. Why does Cheney believe he’s not subject to the rule? The answer is that Cheney and his legal eagle David Addington – the torture lawyer to top all torture lawyers – have concluded that the office of the Vice President does not belong to the Executive Branch. To this, Rahm Emanuel has just the right response: fine, pack your bags and move out of the White House.