The way things are going, it's getting to where even The Shadow won't know "what evil lurks in the hearts of men." And forget that lurking-in-the-heart stuff, pretty soon the old radio detective won't even be able to find out what your government has been doing for you.
Executive branch agencies -- mostly the CIA, the Pentagon, the spy satellite folks and the Justice Department -- discovered more than 14 million new secrets last year, according to a report to the president by the Information Security Oversight Office, part of the National Archives.
That's a 25 percent increase over the prior year in creating things that must be "secret." Just before Sept. 11, 2001, the rate was 8 million a year. So that's a substantial surge in the urge to submerge. (Sorry.)
"Many senior officials will candidly acknowledge that the government classifies too much information," ISOO said in its March 31 report, "although oftentimes the observation is made with respect to the activities of agencies other than their own."
And sometimes it's hard to remember what you've deemed a "(b)(1)" secret, which is something "in the interest of national defense or foreign policy" of the nation.
So, for example, the National Security Archive at George Washington University got a Defense Intelligence Agency biographical sketch of our old pal Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1999. This was released in full as part of the Clinton administration's declassification on Chile, Latin America's strongest democracy until Pinochet's coup in 1973.
Then, in response to ongoing Freedom of Information Act requests, DIA released the same bio again in 2003 but, to protect our security, blacked out the really secret information.
For example, both versions describe him as "Caucasian" with an "oval face and a mustache." We're allowed to know he wears reading glasses and is "quiet." But the new version has blacked out this part: [WARNING: If You Do Not Have An "Eyes Only" Clearance, Do Not Continue Reading!] "Mild-mannered; very businesslike. Very honest, hard working, dedicated. A devoted, tolerant husband and father; lives very modestly. Drinks scotch and pisco sours; smokes cigarettes; likes parties. Sports interests are fencing, boxing and horseback riding. . . . Enjoys discussing world military problems and would respond to a frank, man-to-man approach."
Really Top Secret!
National Park Service space and facility specialist Jim Banton sent an e-mail Tuesday to all NPS employees warning of a water problem at headquarters:
"Due to an unexpected water leak late yesterday afternoon . . . the building engineer" shut off the water in the building. "Please remember when using the drinking water fountains [to] let the water run for 30 seconds or more before drinking the water."
Straightforward enough. But it included this warning: "The information contained in this communication may be confidential, is intended only for the use of the recipient named above" -- in this case, just a few thousand people -- "and may be legally privileged. If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination, distribution, or copying of this communication, or any of its contents is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please re-send this communication to the sender and delete the original message and any copy of it from your computer system. Thank you."
Yikes! Legally privileged! Strictly prohibited! Guess we better get lawyered-up.
Green Pastures for Reich?
Word at the White House is that Otto Reich, who was given a recess appointment as assistant secretary of state for Latin America after he failed to get Senate confirmation and has been more recently White House special envoy for Western Hemisphere initiatives, is leaving next month for greener, possibly much greener, pastures.
Reich is said to be restarting his old consulting business focusing on -- what else? -- matters Latin American. His predecessor in that envoy job in the Clinton administration, Thomas F. "Mac" McLarty, built a very fine consulting operation after leaving the White House.
We're hearing Reich has some nice offers lined up, and he might restart a Hispanic version of CNN's "Crossfire" that he did a few years back. Most likely he'll be doing some campaigning for President Bush, at least as a volunteer.
Maybe he might want to try to do something about that Senate confirmation process?
Career Diplomats Get the Call
It's official: President Bush last week said he has picked career diplomat David Michael Satterfield, former ambassador to Lebanon and now deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, to be ambassador to Jordan.
Another career diplomat, Charles P. Ries, now principal deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, has been tapped to be ambassador to Greece. There had been talk that this post was going to go political, but it moved back to the career column.