Washington spends billions just to keep its secrets from the people

August 28, 2004

Government secrecy is on the rise and costing taxpayers billions of dollars each year, a report by a coalition of non-profit groups reveals.

The Government spent $US6.5 billion ($9.3 billion) last year keeping 14 million new documents from the public and securing previous secrets, the study says.

By comparison, the government spent $5.6 billion on classifying documents in 2002, including about 11 million new documents, and $4.7 billion in 2001, including about 8 million new documents.

Rick Blum, a co-ordinator of OpenTheGovernment.org, a coalition of non-profit groups that united to fight a rising tide of government secrecy, said: "Government secrecy is not only increasing, it's also making it harder for the public to get the information they need to make their families safe from an environmental hazard, such as a toxic chemical that's in their drinking water system ...or from a potential terrorist attack."

The groups include the Federation of American Scientists and the American Library Association.

Mr Blum, the report's author, cited examples of government secrecy, such as information about abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, which was known to the Pentagon months before it was made public, and efforts to classify sections of the Senate intelligence committee's report on prewar intelligence on Iraq.

A commission investigating the September 11 attacks found that secrecy was thwarting the government's ability to undermine terrorists.

J. William Leonard, director of the Government's Information Security Oversight Office, said that classification of information was increasing at a rate that should concern the public, but it is partly because more documents are being produced.

Cox Newspapers