By Kevin Wright - Roswell Daily Record

By Kevin Wright

Before reading this column, take out your smartphone, open your clock app, and time yourself. Ready? Go!

Government secrecy is out of control. As the Wall Street Journal reported, it is impossible to “know how much information is classified by the government” in its totality, but the “trove is likely to include billions of records and is rapidly expanding.” The financial cost of all this classification is also outrageous at approximately $18.5 billion per year

More important than the volume of information or its financial cost to taxpayers, keeping too many secrets by the government is detrimental to the health of our democracy. In 2012, the Public Interest Declassification Board wrote to the President of the United States the following concerning our government’s overclassification of information:

“The findings of the Board are conclusive; present practices for classification and declassification of national security information are outmoded, unsustainable and keep too much information from the public…secrecy must be kept to the minimum required to meet legitimate national security considerations. To maintain democratic values, government must act to ensure openness and should have to justify any resort to secrecy.”

Nothing changed in the following ten years. In a January 2022 letter to U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jerry Moran (R-KS), Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines acknowledged that the mounds of classified information are harmful to our national security and undermine the foundations of our democracy by eroding the “basic trust our citizens have in their government.”

Acknowledging DNI Haines’ letter concerning government secrecy, The Washington Post editorial board wrote: “The U.S. government is drowning in its own secrets…The nation needs to guard its secrets to function properly. But over-classification is counterproductive and adds to public distrust.”

In a May 2022 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) pressed DNI Haines on the government’s propensity to overclassify information.

Sen. Warren: “So it’s paramount to our national security that we keep our most sensitive secrets properly protected and classified, particularly when protecting sources and methods. But I am very concerned about the levels of over-classification and pseudo-classification that we’re seeing across the federal government…But our classification system has spiraled out of control…So over-classification also reduces public scrutiny of important issues and it can hamper accountability.”

We also have the Inventions Secrecy Act of 1951. Enacted amidst the backdrop of the Cold War, the Act empowers the U.S. government to enforce secrecy measures on patent applications. These measures are designed to safeguard potentially sensitive technologies from public exposure. Ostensibly aimed at preventing adversaries from exploiting military and defense-related innovations, this legislative initiative has drawn criticism for its unintended consequences. Critics argue that while the Act’s intentions are noble, its implementation can be a double-edged sword. Mandating secrecy may inadvertently impede scientific advancement, discourage research and development, stifle follow-on innovation, hamper commercialization efforts, and ultimately hinder the sharing of knowledge that could benefit society.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, “there were 6,155 secrecy orders in effect” as of the end of F.Y. 2023. This staggering number underscores the breadth of the government’s influence on innovation through secrecy.

Of course, there’s also this Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP) business. The Department of Defense (DoD) and the Intelligence Community keep a secret of such magnitude that Presidents of the United States have not been told about and which Congress has been kept in the dark.

In July of last year, intelligence officer-turned-whistleblower David Grusch testified under oath he had learned of an orchestrated campaign within the DoD to avoid Congressional oversight of UAP crash retrievals (C.R.), reverse engineering (RE), materials analyses, and “biologics,” or presumably bodies, or parts of bodies, of a non-human intelligence (NHI) entity or being, through the use of Special Access Programs (SAP) and the Independent Research and Development (IR&D) financing process used by defense contractors.

There is so much secrecy and so little political willpower to do something about it. Government secrecy is a bipartisan issue. No party holds the moral high ground on classified information and its availability, or lack thereof, to the public.

Fascinatingly, the term “secrecy” is mentioned only once in the Constitution, notably absent from Article II concerning the presidency. Instead, it surfaces in Article I, Section 5, Clause 3, which stipulates that “Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy…”

Initially, Congress held the authority for classification within the federal government. Remarkably, Article II of the Constitution contains no provision granting the President or their representatives the power to classify any document. Yet the Executive Branch is primarily responsible for churning out so many classified documents and implementing so much secrecy. In other words, over the past 235 years, Congress has slowly ceded its Constitutional ground to the President.

Last year, The New York Times reported that the “federal government classifies more than 50 million documents a year.” That’s 136,986 documents each and every day, or 5,708 each and every hour, or 95 documents each and every minute. If it took 5 minutes to read this column, the government classified 475 documents. That’s outrageous.

It’s time for Congress to act, reassert itself, and rein in out-of-control secrecy. It’s in everyone’s best interests.