Boston Globe Editorial -Breaking the code of secrecy
Copyright by The Boston Globe
Published: June 27, 2007
There is no end to the magnetic attraction of secrecy on government officials. So it is a healthy sign of democratic self-correction when the code of secrecy is set aside, as it was yesterday when, at the behest of CIA Director Michael Hayden, the agency released 693 pages of declassified files on CIA abuses from the 1950s to the 1970s. Among these were a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro, subjecting unwitting subjects to LSD and the wiretapping of journalists.
Making those records public is not merely a boon for historians. It may also help cure contemporary leaders of their addiction to acting secretly, outside the law. Anticipating Hayden's action, the National Security Archive at George Washington University last week released documents from 1975 in which former President Gerald Ford; his secretary of State, Henry Kissinger; and the CIA director at the time, William Colby, discuss some of what Colby called the "skeletons" in the agency's closet.
Then as now, the CIA was conducting illegal wiretaps of Americans. To uncover the source of leaks to newspapers, journalists and government officials were placed under 24-hour surveillance. CIA letter openers were reading mail to Americans from the Soviet Union and China. CIA operatives covertly monitored and inflitrated antiwar groups and conducted covert programs against "the international activities of radicals and black militants."
The parallels between those old transgressions and recent abuses countenanced by President George W. Bush and members of his administration are not always exact. Nonetheless, there are enough similarities to cast light on the enduring temptation of secrecy-obsessed officials to trample on American liberties in the name of protecting them.
Indeed, some of the contemporary excesses that have come to light are worse than the Vietnam-era opening of Jane Fonda's mail. Scores of suspected terrorists or Islamist recruiters for global jihad have been kidnapped and delivered to interrogators in countries known to practice torture. The e-mails of many more Americans than were monitored during the Vietnam War have been subjected to data mining by government snoops.
Records of those old un-American activities were kept secret so long not merely to protect the reputation of officials who have long since retired or died. The hiding of old abuses also makes it easier to forget how harmful and unnecessary they were. Secrecy about the past makes it easier for new generations of abusers to pursue new abuses.