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When Over-Classification Starts Wars

A new series of blog posts over on Defusing the Nuclear Threat is highlighting how some previously top secret documents and audio recordings related to the Vietnam war show the incident that started the war was not only exaggerated in some aspects, but in fact was fabricated to some extent. This is yet another example of how over-classification of documents can not only be wasteful, but dangerous.

In part two of the series, Martin Hellman quotes a previously top secret history from the National Security Agency about the Gulf of Tonkin incidents that says “no attack happened that night [August 4].” Previously, the official narrative said on August 4, 1964, the USS Maddox and the Turner Joy were attacked for a second time by Vietnamese PT boats. This attack was a key justification for going to war.

There is a place and a time for classified documents, but all too often documents are being unnecessarily classified. The Project On Government Oversight has long fought against such over-classification.

The Secrecy Report for 2012, released last year by and a coalition of over 80 groups (including POGO), laid out some of the more concrete costs of over-classification. From our blog post about the report: “For every $1 the government spent on declassification in 2011, it spent $215 maintaining government secrets already on the books.”

The National Declassification Center (NDC) is supposed to be trying to go through the backlog of 370 million pages of documents awaiting declassification, but in the last two-and-a-half years they have only processed 50 million documents. At that rate, the NDC will not be able to meet its presidentially mandated deadline.

Over-classification and a mounting backlog harm government transparency and contribute to the growing national security state, but Hellman’s blog posts show they can also lead to false pretenses for wars that cost trillions of dollars and millions of lives.

Read more of the series at Defusing the Nuclear Threats.

By: Andre Francisco
Online Producer, POGO

andre francisco Andre Francisco is the Online Producer for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Open Government

Related Content: Defense, Government Secrecy, Information Access

Authors: Andre Francisco

Submitted by opit at: April 12, 2013
Because we do have a plutocracy which customarily relies on its ability to fabricate outrageous stories is the reason secrecy is maintained. That such is obvious to blatant is a threat to the researcher in that 'cover' being so deliberately provocative can lead to all sorts of useless outrage...missing the fact that those promoting stories are secure in being able to dispose of irritants who are too persistant. And of course, military 'rules' are never 'fair', else Bradley Manning would not be subjected to indefinite torture for whistleblowing. Nor would others doing the same be subject to persecution.(that is not a misspelling) The question remains, who are the people who then could 'do something' ? It certainly is not elected politicians ! And subversion of activists is Standard Operating Procedure. One cannot even engage intelligently on many comment threads without being subjected to derision by paid agents of what I could call fascism...except our institutions predate and generated such perverted authoritarianism, presumably patterned on their own systems which would have been evident in feudal governments which had their own problems with political Machiavellianism. The name of the study of past events is called His Story for the propaganda of the ruler is my take.
Submitted by vergne at: April 10, 2013
this is not new information. it was published in the New York Times in 1971 after Daniel Ellsberg released classified information in an attempt to end the Vietnam War.
Submitted by Will Agee at: April 7, 2013
We have work to do. To be a better us to create a better world.Be truthful,even when others will not,even when others cannot.
Submitted by lcarliner at: April 6, 2013
What is needed is a law to be passed that allows as a defense that the document released was improperly classified in the first place. This would greatly enhance protection for whistle blowers and help protect reporter sources!
Submitted by Tigermac at: April 6, 2013
What also needs to be done is to weed out any employee who works for the city, State or Federal agencies that could give these psychopaths permission to commit these sick perverted acts on the defenseless creatures. With people who are sociopaths and could careless about the welfare of animals how are we going to stop Dog Fighting and other cruelties to animals? The problem as I see it is the government is engaged in so many illegal activities such as lying about starting wars because the reasons are fabricated and so the government gets away with it by making the files top secret. Two resent examples are the Vietnam War and the war with Iraq, both reasons to go to war totally fabricated, with incredible loss of life and property. Our government is so corrupt they can get away with it by using the vast disinformation and propaganda network around this country and most of the world and all our local news is corporate owned. This network brainwashes people to the point they become stupid and ignorant of reality. There is not much outrage out there over the President letting the Bush administration get away with enormous amounts of criminal acts, by saying we have to look ahead not back wards. Letting the banks get off totally free by saying they are too big to fail, some of the banks were laundering money for drug cartels along with a huge list of other criminal acts. The Wall Street bale out was another criminal act that showed us who is in charge, when the people said they did not want to bail out Wall Street and it was voted down, then there was some back door deal there the no vote, got overridden by the likes of ALEX and the Koch brothers. The fact is we have to do something because we do have a Plutocracy, but are the people in this country too brainwashed and filled with propaganda and disinformation to do something about restoring Democracy?
Submitted by physicsandchem at: April 6, 2013

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