The incoming Biden administration is considering breaking with a long-standing tradition of new presidents sharing national secrets with prior presidents. Instead, in the case of his future predecessor Trump, Biden says he wants to hear the advice of key national security figures in the new government regarding whether or not to brief the impeached ex-chief executive once he’s out the White House door.
That is not the question Biden should be considering. Rather, he should be opening up about government secrets with the American public, who for far too long have been kept increasingly in the dark.
The truth is that over the years, especially since the end of World War II, with President Harry Truman’s establishment of a “national security state” and the launching of the Cold War, the United States, though commonly referred to in our national mythology, in speeches by politicians and in the media as “the world’s greatest democracy” is actually a bureaucratic state with secrets so deep, dark and wide-spread that, as Daniel Ellsberg reveals in his latest book The Doomsday Machine, even the president and the secretary of defense for generations haven’t been told the incomprehensibly fratro-genocidal details of the war plans that the nation would follow in the event of a nuclear conflict with China or Russia.
The only way we citizens can really know what our government is doing — at least the significant stuff and virtually anything related to foreign policy or military policy and action — is when some whistleblower like Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, or Edward Snowden has the guts to leak it out and if our toady corporate-owned media than dare to publish or broadcast it. That’s the only way we ever learn our government is committing war crimes all the time, how the government is secretly monitoring all our communications, all of us, how it is actively subverting democratic governments around the world, and that our country actually has a policy not of responding to nuclear attack but of being the instigator of any nuclear war.
We’re supposed to have freedom of information when it comes to the actions and behavior of our government, but whenever I file an FOIA request, if I get any response at all, it’s usually composed of either a sheaf of completely blank pages, or of pages displaying only prepositions and articles, but no nouns or verbs or the positions of people who are doing things that area also whited out. (I once received, in response to an FOIA request for a supposedly publicly available audit report from the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office regarding the Navy budget, a document in which the term Navy was redacted in the document title and in every subsequent reference!).
There is, in practice, no freedom of information in the federal government any longer. There was for a short time back in the late ’70s, after the Watergate scandal and the exposure of Cointelpro (that was the result of a break-in of a local FBI office and the theft of FBI spying documents by anti-war activists) were investigated in the Senate Church Committee hearings. But that brief era of openness has ended. The government today is more closed up than it perhaps ever was, except in wartime.
Under President Obama, the Espionage Act, a hoary freedom-assaulting relic of World War I, was revivified and “weaponized” against whistleblowers and journalists, who were jailed on the flimsiest of excuses, charged with luring whistleblowers to “steal” government secrets, or charged with “contempt” of contemptible courts and judges for refusing to name their sources, and jailed, or threatened with jail. That stinking precedent established by the alleged former “constitutional scholar” president was carried on by President Trump, who has continued the persecution and sought the extradition of journalist and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, still stuck in solitary confinement in a British prison hell-hole as the U.S. pursues an appeal of a magistrate’s denial of her rejection of that requested action.
All freedom-loving Americans should demand that incoming President Biden reverse this travesty and reverse the onward march of ever more secrecy. A great first step would be a restoration of the Freedom of Information Act in practice. Every department and agency of the federal government from the wholly closed-down CIA to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Commerce should be instructed immediately by this new president that any request by a citizen or journalist seeking information regarding that unit of the government should be responded to on the basis of openly supplying all information requested unless there is a justifiable reason provided for not releasing it (the current standard is not to release any information unless the requester can justify its release).
Openness, not secrecy and censorship must be the government’s default response.
But that’s only the start.
A full review needs to be conducted of all government secrecy labeling. Almost nothing this government does should be stamped “restricted,” “secret,” “eyes only,” “top secret,” or higher. Democracy demands openness. A closed government is a tyrannical government. Full stop!
If the U.S. sends or posts troops to some country, or bombs some country, whether this is done under orders from the Pentagon or the CIA or some other agency like the Drug Enforcement Agency or NSA, the American people have a right to know about it. If the NSA is spying on us in anything but a spy catching effort, we need to be told and the reason for and scale of the operation should be publicly stated.
If the Pentagon’s Cyber Command or some other agency or department is spreading false information, hacking or monitoring American media outlets, spying on Americans, or using contacts in American news organizations to spread propaganda, we need to know.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (a grossly misnamed body that is not a true court and is not limited in its jurisdiction to just “foreign” surveillance), should be scrapped. If any government agency wants to spy and surveil Americans, that agency should have to first obtain a warrant from a legitimate court or the action should be disallowed.
Biden has taken one baby step, announcing that the appointment log of visitors to the White House, closed during the Trump and the Bush administration before it, will be reportedly be made public in the new administration. That’s great, but it’s a tiny beginning.
Let’s demand fully open government, period. Unless it’s a legitimate national security issue, let’s demand that meetings of the cabinet with the president be open to the press, and not just as a photo op. Why should such important policy sessions be any different from Congressional committee hearings — which, incidentally, should all also be open?
We need real democracy, not the Potemkin democracy that the U.S. has become.