Friday, September 09, 2005

Secure Borders, Open Doors

By William Fisher

As congress returns to Washington facing what promises to be a rancorous debate on how to protect U.S. borders, a leading immigration think-tank is charging that U.S. visa policies – a key tool in promoting national security – are in danger of compromising American economic competitiveness and foreign policy goals.

A new study by the Migration Policy Institute – “Secure Borders, Open Doors” – faults the government for lack of a strategic plan for the U.S. visa program, and “nebulous” coordination between the State Department (DOS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), leading to duplication and poor information sharing.

The report says one of the visa program’s “greatest challenges” will be “countering international perceptions that the United States has become more hostile to visitors. Losses to tourism and industry have been significant in recent years, with nonimmigrant visa applications dropping by 35 percent between 2001 and 2003, international enrollment in U.S. schools for 2003/2004 down for the first time in three decades, and the number of tourists visiting the United States plummeting by over 10 million people between 2000 and 2003. There are also reports of billions of dollars lost in foreign direct investment in the United States and contracts for U.S. exports”.

The report, written by Stephen Yale-Loehr, Demetrios Papademetriou and Betsy Cooper, also calls on Congress to require the establishment of a comprehensive interagency evaluation process to review incidents of admitting people who present security risks.

It says that while the DOS “is working to address delays caused by additional checks and mandatory interviews”, changes are still needed “to clarify the application process and make it more transparent; facilitate visa re-issuance from the United States; and waive interviews for travelers who have been issued visas recently.”

The report also recommends improving the quality of interviews through the use of a secondary-like inspection at consular posts to target possible security risks.

It asserts that a “major weakness” continues to be variable access to information through different agencies’ databases. “Improved intelligence-gathering, greater investments in staff expertise and training, and online access to all relevant information about applicants are essential.”

The report recommends, “An integrated national watch list that is constantly checked for quality together with a stronger communications system between agencies for security advisory opinions, are essential domestic security priorities.”

Since September 11, the report says, “the purpose of different visa classes and the process for getting a visa have remained the same, with the most frequent reason for denying a nonimmigrant application still being the person’s inability to prove that they do not intend to stay in the United States permanently”.

However, it adds, “Many administrative procedures have changed significantly, including a requirement for personal interviews with almost all visa applicants”. “The government has more closely scrutinized visa waiver countries, curtailed airline passengers’ ability to travel through the U.S. en route to other countries without visas, and established requirements for visa waiver countries to have machine-readable passports with biometric identifiers by October 1, 2005,” it says.

The authors find that the security check process has improved, but urge better use of biometrics. “The State Department, DHS and the FBI must agree on a truly compatible fingerprinting system and adopt standards that can be used both among U.S. agencies and in conjunction with the development of biometric passports from other countries.”

The impact of visa problems on higher education is a major concern. Ursula Oaks of the Department of Public Policy at the Association of International Educators (NAFSA), told IPS, “What we face today is not just a visa problem, it's an ‘access’ problem -- the myriad still-existing barriers to international students' ability to study here that, taken together, pose a serious challenge for our country.”

At a recent symposium to discuss the MPI report, similar concerns were also voiced by Dr. Debra W. Stewart, President of the Council of Graduate Schools. She called recent statistics on international student flows “a sobering reminder of the importance of US visa policy.”

Dr. Stewart said that last year international graduate applications declined 28% and another 5% this year. For the past three years, she said, first time international graduate student enrollment has declined. “With international enrollment in engineering approaching nearly half of the total and over 40% in the physical sciences, these declines raise serious questions about America’s potential to continue its position of thought leadership in these fields.”

She added her concern about the “unintended consequences of recent reform in the visa system,” noting that “inscrutable delays do occur in the system.”

In higher education, she said, “Global competition for talent is real….our competitors are not standing still.” Other countries, she suggested, are capitalizing on “the negative image of the US abroad by advertising their programs outside US embassies. Perhaps more significant are the major investments in graduate education being made worldwide”, particularly by the European Union, China and India.

U.S. consular staff, she said, “need more understanding of the American academic world that student applicants hope to enter”, adding, “There appears to be a lack of scientific expertise in the consular affairs offices.”

While noting recent improvements in the visa process, Dr. Stewart said, “Problems remain that are not likely to be solved by simply making the current system more efficient and seamless…It requires strategic thinking about the very purposes of visa policy -- its goals and desired outcomes.”

She added, “America’s national security, its intellectual security and its very capacity to compete, depend upon it.”


By William Fisher

Ten years after the Oklahoma City bombing left 168 people dead, one U.S. national security agency believes the domestic radical right does not pose a substantial threat to Americans while another labels white supremacists as “terrorists” – along with anti-war groups, affirmative action organizations and animal rights activists.

The apparent inconsistencies arise from documents recently made public from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

A draft internal document from the DHS obtained by The Congressional Quarterly lists the only serious domestic terrorist threats as radical animal rights and environmental groups like the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front.

But, according to an FBI report released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last week, neo-Nazi groups such as the Michigan Militia and the Aryan World Church are lumped together as potential terrorists with organizations such as the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary (BAMN) -- a national civil rights and affirmative action organization – and the antiwar group Direct Action, along with the East Lansing Animal Rights Movement.

The FBI report was prepared by a counterintelligence agent at the agency’s Detroit field office for a Domestic Terrorism Symposium hosted by the Michigan State Police. Inexplicably, the FBI report acknowledges that BAMN’s demonstrations were peaceful.

The anti-war group Direct Action and the East Lansing Animal Rights Movement are also listed in the report for taking part in a Lansing protest that targeted the FBI. The ACLU in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit on behalf of nine organizations and individuals in Michigan obtained the report.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a research and advocacy organization that tracks hate crimes, “But for all the property damage they have wreaked, eco-radicals have killed no one — something that most definitely cannot be said of the white supremacists and others who people the American radical right.”

Linking BAMN with white supremacists or to terrorism is "absolutely outrageous," a BAMN spokesman told The Detroit News. "The American people are going to be outraged that their government is spying on groups standing up for affirmative action and education," he said.

Brian J. Foley, a professor at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, cautions that “Police should focus on groups that use violence, period. One of the great things about the US is that we are supposed to be able to believe and espouse whatever views we want, without government intervention or censorship. Groups should be included on "terror lists" only if they use violence, not simply because police and politicians find their views distasteful or challenging to the status quo.”

In a new publication, “Ten Years of Terror”, the SPLC says that close to 60 right-wing domestic terrorist plots have been uncovered since the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

These have included plans to bomb or burn government buildings, banks, refineries, utilities, clinics, synagogues, mosques, memorials and bridges; to assassinate police officers, judges, politicians, civil rights figures and others; to rob banks, armored cars and other criminals; and to amass illegal machine guns, missiles, explosives, and biological and chemical weapons.

For example:

In July 1995, an antigovernment extremist was arrested after trying to purchase a machine gun from an undercover police officer, and is later indicted by a federal grand jury for plotting to blow up the Internal Revenue Service building in Austin, Texas.

In November of the same year, a leader of the Oklahoma Constitutional Militia leader, his wife and another man, were arrested as they prepared explosives to bomb numerous targets, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, gay bars and abortion clinics.

The following year, apparently inspired by his reading of a neo-Nazi tract, a white supremacist killed one black man and wounded seven other people, including a reporter, during a racist shooting spree in a black neighborhood in Jackson, Miss. A search of his home found 17 long guns, 20,000 rounds of ammunition, several knives and countless military manuals.

In 1997, police raided the home of an alleged Ku Klux Klan member, discovering 35,000 rounds of heavy ammunition, armor piercing shells, smoke and tear gas grenades, live shells for grenade launchers, artillery shells and other military gear.

Later that year, three Ku Klux Klan members were arrested in a plot to blow up a natural gas refinery outside Fort Worth, Texas, after a local Klan leader got cold feet and went to the FBI. The three, along with a fourth arrested later, expected to kill a huge number of people with the blast — authorities later say as many as 30,000 might have died.

In 1998, a South Carolina militia member was charged with weapons, explosives and drug violations after allegedly trying to trade drugs for a machine gun and enough C-4 plastic explosive to demolish a five-room house. The following year, he plead guilty to an array of charges, including threatening to kill then Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh.

In 2003, Federal agents charged the national leader of the neo-Nazi World Church of the Creator (WCOTC), soliciting the murder of federal judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow, whose mother and husband were later murdered by another person.

Last year alone, the Department of Justice prosecuted four domestic terrorism crimes. A Neo-Nazi skinhead videotaped himself as he firebombed an Oklahoma City synagogue. A former National Guardsman was arrested after checking into a mental health facility and telling counselors about plans to blow up a synagogue and a National Guard armory. FBI agents in Tennessee arrested a farmhand after he allegedly tried to purchase ingredients for deadly sarin nerve gas and C-4 plastic explosives from an undercover agent. And officials in New Jersey arrested two men they say asked a police informant to build them a bomb.

Timothy McVeigh, a former member of the armed forces, was executed for the Oklahoma City bombing. One of his accomplices, Terry Nichols, has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.


By William Fisher

Republican spinmeisters worked furiously this week to contain the political damage to President Bush caused by what he called the government’s “unacceptable” response to hurricane Katrina.

The Bush Administration may have found some comfort in yesterday’s ABC/Washington Post poll, which found that while Americans are broadly critical of government preparedness for the disaster, but far fewer blame George W. Bush personally, and public anger about the response is less widespread than some critics would suggest.

The poll found that 46 percent of Americans approved of Bush's handling of the crisis, almost exactly half his 91 percent approval rating after Sept. 11, 2001.

The most critical views cross jurisdictions: Two-thirds of those participating in the poll say the federal government should have been better prepared to deal with a storm this size, and three-quarters say state and local governments in the affected areas likewise were insufficiently prepared.

Considering the media's hostility towards Bush on this issue these poll numbers could have been much worse for the president. The president’s popularity has been in freefall over the past few months over the Iraq war and surging gasoline prices.

However, the body count in New Orleans, and in Jackson and Biloxi, Mississippi, has not yet begun in earnest. As the numbers of dead begin to climb, the Bush Administration is likely to face another wave of bitter criticism.

The White House damage control strategy has been two-pronged. First, the president and his top advisors have been dispatched to the disaster areas – twice for the president – for carefully stage-managed photo-ops with survivors and with state and local officials. The purpose of the former is to demonstrate that the president is on top of the situation and that he really cares about people. The latter has been designed to take some of the vinegar out of the stinging criticism of the federal government that has come from New Orleans’ mayor and Louisiana’s governor, who are both Democrats.

The president met with Louisiana’s governor for an hour-and-a-half Monday, and both emerged from the meeting looking and sounding like they were finally on the same page.

The Republican majority leader in the Senate, Dr. Bill Frist of Tennessee, appeared at a press conference in Washington last night (Monday) to announce that both houses of Congress would be changing their after-recess schedule to consider legislation and hold hearings specifically focused on helping Katrina victims and communities.

Among other actions, he announced that the Homeland Security Committee of the Senate, led by Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, would be holding hearings into the Katrina disaster. No date was given.

Frist had just returned from New Orleans where, as a physician, he had joined local doctors and many from other states in providing care to the sick and wounded.

But on Capitol Hill, the administration faced widespread criticism from Democrats, but also, in a more muted manner, from his own party.

The Republican line, as expressed by Sen. Frist and many others, was to acknowledge that mistakes had been made in the week between pre-Katrina notification of the oncoming calamity and the time the storm struck.

Some federal officials said uncertainty over who was in charge had
contributed to delays in providing aid and imposing order, and officials in
Louisiana complained that Washington disaster officials had blocked some
aid efforts.

Local and state resources were so weakened, said Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, that in the future federal authorities need to take "more of an upfront role earlier on, when we have these truly ultracatastrophes."

But federal, state and local officials insisted that the real problem was that
the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which Mr. Chertoff's department oversees, failed to deliver urgently needed help and, through incomprehensible red tape, even thwarted others' efforts to help.

In the fiscal 2005 budget, the Bush Administration cut flood control funding for the Gulf States by about 50 percent. But, even fully funded, use of most of that money would not have been far enough along to have made a difference with Katrina. The Army Corps of Engineers has known for decades that a category four or five hurricane accompanied by a storm surge would be like to breach New Orleans’ fragile defenses.

Leading Democrats were far less measured in their outrage.

Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, a Democrat, said today that she was so angry about federal failures and second-guessing that if she heard any more criticism of local efforts, even from the president, she might "punch" him.

In a Monday press conference, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, was visibly shaken with anger and frustration. He noted that the DHS “was founded to protect us, whether from a terrorist attack or a natural disaster. The tactics are different, but the result of both is the same.”

Many others echoed his thought that, four years after 9/11, the country is still woefully unprepared to deal with mega-calamities in any organized way.

Former President Bill Clinton said the government "failed" the thousands of people who lived in coastal communities devastated by Katrina, and said a federal investigation was warranted in due time.

"Our government failed those people in the beginning, and I take it now there is no dispute about it," Clinton told CNN. "One hundred percent of the people recognize that -- that it was a failure." He and former President George H. W. Bush have launched the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund to help raise money for those left homeless by the storm.

His wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, called on President Bush on Sunday to appoint an independent national commission to examine the relief effort. She also said that she intends to introduce legislation to remove FEMA from the Department of Homeland Security and restore its previous status as an independent agency with cabinet-level status.

FEMA was an independent cabinet-level agency until it was merged into the mammoth Department of Homeland Security in 2003.

Mayor C. Ray Nagin of New Orleans was among those most vociferous in expressing his frustration. "We're still fighting over authority," he told reporters. "A bunch of people are the boss. The state and federal government are doing a two-step dance."

Homeland Security department secretary Michael Chertoff tried to deflect the criticism of his department and FEMA by saying there would be time later to decide what went wrong. Chertoff said he recognized that the local government's capacity to respond to the disaster was severely compromised by the hurricane and flood.

"What happened here was that essentially, the demolishment of that state and
local infrastructure, and I think that really caused the cascading series of
breakdowns," he said.

But Mayor Nagin said the root of the breakdown was the failure of the federal
government to deliver relief supplies and personnel quickly.

"Whatever the criticisms and the after-action report may be about what was right and what was wrong looking back, what would be a horrible tragedy would be to distract ourselves from avoiding further problems because we're spending time talking about problems that have already occurred," Chertoff said on national television.

But far from deferring to state or local officials, said a local official, FEMA asserted its authority and made things worse.

Governor Blanco announced Saturday that she had hired James Lee Witt, the
director of FEMA during the Clinton administration, to advise her on the

And, in one of what will doubtless be dozens of shocking revelations that will emerge over time, Dr. Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, told the New Orleans newspaper, the Times-Picayune, that top DHS AND FEMA officials listened in on electronic briefings given by his staff in advance of Katrina slamming Louisiana and Mississippi--and were advised of the storm’s potential deadly effects.

"Mayfield said the strength of the storm and the potential disaster it could bring were made clear during both the briefings and in formal advisories, which warned of a storm surge capable of overtopping levees in New Orleans and winds strong enough to blow out windows of high-rise buildings," the paper reported. "He said the briefings included information on expected wind speed, storm surge, rainfall and the potential for tornados to accompany the storm as it came ashore. We were briefing them way before landfall," Mayfield said. "It’s not like this was a surprise. We had in the advisories that the levee could be topped."

For the president, the storm is far from over, though it is too soon to assess the extent of permanent political damage he will suffer.


By William Fisher

As the late Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, William H. Renquist, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, legal scholars, media analysts, and an endless stream of TV “talking heads”, continued to debate his legacy – and attempted to draw comparisons to his proposed successor, Judge John G. Roberts.

Rehnquist died Saturday at the age of 80, after battling thyroid cancer for a year. Arguably more than any other justice in Supreme Court history, Renquist was responsible for the Court’s tilt toward to right.

The Chief Justice served on the Court for 19 years, including 14 years as an associate justice. His service was one of the longest – and contentious – in the Court’s history.

When, at 47, President Richard M. Nixon named him to the Court as an associate justice in 1971, Rehnquist had already established his credentials as a “Goldwater conservative”, far outside the then mainstream of jurisprudence.

An assistant attorney general in the Justice Department, he was chosen to begin to carry out Nixon’s fervent desire to un-do the liberal inclinations of the court, dating back to the tenure of Chief Justice Earl Warren. It was the Warren Court that decided, for example, that racial segregation in schools was “inherently unequal”, overturning the “separate but equal” legal precedent in force since 1896.

But Renquist’s first two years on the Court cast him as a voice in the wilderness. Surrounded by liberal jurists like Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, and Associate Justices like William O. Douglas, William J. Brennan Jr. and Thurgood Marshall, he was often the only dissenter in court opinions.

For example, he was the lone dissenter in a death penalty case in 1981, writing, "The existence of the death penalty in this country is virtually an illusion,"
complaining that "virtually nothing happens except endlessly drawn-out legal proceedings." Renquist felt there were too many procedural obstacles blocking states from carrying out the death penalty.

But Renquist’s view ultimately prevailed. The combination of legislation and
Supreme Court decisions accelerated imposition of the death penalty beginning in the 1990s.

Renquist’s ability to dominate the Court was bolstered by the appointment of other conservative justices during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations. President Reagan appointed him Chief Justice in 1986. Justices Antonin Scalia, also appointed by Reagan in 1986, and Clarence Thomas, appointed by George H.W. Bush in 1991, amplified Renquist’s voice for federalism.

Rehnquist was a tireless advocate of what he called “pluralism”, by which he meant increasing rights for states versus federal power and fierce defense of an independent judiciary, but one that nonetheless believed in a limited role for the federal courts.

"Don't concentrate all the power in one place, " he once said.

This philosophy translated into many decisions that affirmed the right of states to legislate and adjudicate powers not specifically reserved to the federal government.

Rehnquist favored government accommodation of religion. He advocated for limiting the power of government agencies to take race into account in setting public policy. And his interpretation of the Constitution viewed a government of limited, defined powers, not a charter of broad, unenumerated rights.

For example, the Rehnquist court upheld the authority of police to conduct searches and have the results introduced as evidence; enhanced the immunity of police officers from lawsuits for constitutional violations; and reduced
the role of the federal courts in reviewing state-court criminal convictions.

The Renquist court also took a limited view of the guarantee of due process of law. In one high-profile case, it rejected a due process challenge to state laws that prohibit physician-assisted suicide.

In another case, the court rejected a number of Congressional districts drawn by Southern state legislatures in order to elect black representatives.

But Rehnquist did not win all his battles. Perhaps his most famous setback came in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, in which he was one of only two dissenters (the other was Justice Byron R. White). That landmark decision recognized a Constitutional right to abortion. He lost again – this time by a single vote -- in another abortion case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 that would have overruled Roe.

Again, in a 1989 case, Texas v. Johnson, the court ruled that flag-burning was a form of political expression protected by the First Amendment, and Renquist was the only dissenting voice.

Some of his most consequential opinions involved limits on the meaning of the Constitution's due process guarantee. He was reluctant to use due process to establish new rights or limit state power.

In his majority opinion in a 1976 case, Paul v. Davis, the court held that a man who had been falsely identified as a convicted shoplifter could not sue the police chief for violating the 14th amendment's guarantee of due process of law.

Rehnquist's majority opinion in another case, United States v. Lopez in 1995, accelerated the debate over federal authority. The court found unconstitutional a law, the Gun Free School Zones Act of 1990, making it a federal crime to carry a gun within 1,000 feet of a school.

In the Lopez case, the court focused on the Commerce Clause in the Constitution. This clause – which gives Congress authority to regulate interstate commerce -- had been the principal source of Congressional hegemony over national affairs.

Renquist wrote that possession of guns near schools "has nothing to do with 'commerce' or any sort of economic enterprise, however broadly one might define those terms,"

The Lopez case led to numerous other decisions expanding state immunity from federal regulation and limiting the authority of Congress. Nearly all were decided by 5-to-4 votes.

That trend suffered a setback during the Court’s last term, when Renquist dissented in a 6 to 3 decision to uphold the power of Congress to prohibit the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

During Rehnquist's tenure, however, undoubtedly the most controversial decision came in the 5-to-4 Bush v. Gore ruling that ended the 2000 presidential election and the 36-day post-election period of lawsuits and recounts.

The court ruled that a lack of uniform standards for counting ballots from county to county meant that a recount would violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. There was no time to fix the problem, the majority held, so there could be no further counting.

Rehnquist’s concurring opinion argued that the Florida Supreme Court had usurped the State Legislature's authority, under the Constitution and a federal statute, to determine the rules for conducting elections.

While Renquist ordinarily stuck to his conservative judicial philosophy, his decisions were not without surprises. For example, he voted with the 7-2 majority in a June 2000 decision reaffirming one of the Warren Court's most famous and disputed rulings, Miranda v. Arizona, which required the police to advise suspects of their right to counsel and to remain silent.

The Miranda warnings "have become part of our national culture,” he wrote.

With the probability that the conservative Judge Roberts will be confirmed by the Senate as Renquist’s successor – and President Bush’s nomination of another conservative to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor – it is likely that the shift to the right begun by Renquist will not only continue, but accelerate.


By William Fisher

During 2004, the Bush Administration issued more secret court orders, spent $148 creating new classified documents for every $1 spent releasing old ones, invoked the ‘state secrets’ privilege in court cases more frequently than ever before, and received 25 per cent more requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

These are among the findings of a new “Secrecy Report Card” prepared by, a coalition of organizations dedicated to lifting the “shroud of secrecy” from local, state and federal governments.

The report, written by Rick Blum, the organization’s director, charges that “Secrecy continues to expand across a broad spectrum of activities. Openness in our government and society is increasingly threatened. A keystone value of our democracy, openness more practically helps root out abuse of power, bad decisions or embarrassing facts that may put lives at risk.”

Among such “embarrassing facts” is that “the military gave U.S. troops in Iraq body armor vests that failed ballistics tests”. Documented by reports obtained under the federal Freedom of Information act (FOIA), this decision was reversed and the body armor recalled once the story was about to hit the newsstands, the report says.

The report reveals that in 2004:

The secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – a key tool in the application of the USA Patriot Act -- approved 1,754 orders and rejected none. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) must request such a court order before it can place anyone in the U.S. under surveillance, but since its founding in 1978 it has denied only four such requests.

For every $1 the federal government spent releasing old secrets, it spent $148 creating new ones -- a $28 jump from 2003. In contrast, from 1997 to 2001, the government spent less than $20 per year keeping secrets for every dollar spent declassifying them.

The government spent $7.2 billion securing classified information, more than any annual cost in at least a decade. With 15.6 million new documents stamped ‘secret’ in fiscal year 2004, the government created 81 percent more secrets than it did in the year prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The government spent $460 to secure each of its classified documents, in addition to the cost of maintaining its accumulated secrets.

Nearly two-thirds of the 7,045 meetings of federal advisory committees that fall under the Federal Advisory Committee Act were completely closed to the public, undermining one purpose of the law.

The public made 4,080,737 requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) -- a 25 percent jump in overall requests from the previous year, despite only a 5 percent rise (to $336.8 million) in spending on FOIA. Of the roughly 90 agencies surveyed by the Department of Justice, 84 per cent were unable to keep up with FOIA requests they received.

To reduce their caseloads, agencies may be denying more requests on technicalities than they have in the past or are waiving fees less often. One public interest group, the People For the American Way, was told its request for documents about people detained as part of government anti-terrorism efforts would cost the group nearly $400,000.

The “state secrets” privilege, which allows a sitting U.S. president to withhold documents from the courts, Congress and the public, was used only four times between 1953 and 1976 but, since 2001, has been used 23 times -- 33 times more often than during the height of the Cold War.

At least 62 new state laws expanded secrecy in 2004 while only 38 strengthened open government.

The government now uses at least 50 types of designations to restrict unclassified information deemed “sensitive but unclassified.” Many of these numerous terms are duplicative, vague, and endanger the protection of necessary secrets by allowing excessive secrecy to prevail in our open society.

Over the last decade, whistleblowers helped the federal government recover
$7,626,566,750, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Justice. The large savings for taxpayers comes even as court decisions have undermined whistleblower protections passed by Congress in 1989. The report estimates that 2005 recoveries are likely to total over one billion dollars.

The current report is an expanded edition of the first “Secrecy Report Card” issued last year. It comes “at a time when secrecy continues to expand”, but also “at a time when there is a vocal chorus pushing back against secrecy”, the report says, pointing to several pieces of pending federal legislation designed to give citizens more efficient access to government documents.

Many other open government advocates agree that 2004 has been a discouraging year for transparency.

Steven Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, declares, "As a society we seem to be losing our ability to rationally debate complicated policy decisions. Secrecy aggravates the problem by excluding people from the debate, or by narrowing their frames of reference. Nothing less than the future of American democracy is at stake."

Eric R. Biel, Deputy Washington Director and Senior Counsel for Human Rights First, finds, “This report card is another searing indictment of a system out of control. For the most part this rapidly growing secrecy has not contributed to any real increase in national security.”

Maria LaHood, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, represents Maher Arar in his case against the U.S. government, says, “Canadian citizen Arar sued U.S. Government officials for detaining him in New York on his way home to Canada and sending him to Syria where he was tortured and detained for nearly a year. The U.S. Government has argued that the bulk of Mr. Arar's case cannot be litigated because the reason he was sent to Syria instead of Canada is a state secret, which if disclosed would harm national security and foreign relations. If the Court accepts the Government's position, not only would the Government's policy of sending people to countries to be detained, interrogated and tortured be beyond judicial review, but so could any of the Government's illegal acts done in the name of ‘national security’.”

Beth Daley of the Project On Government Oversight, believes that “The expanding cloak of government secrecy is allowing more incompetence and cronyism to fester similar to the kind we’ve seen this week in the relief effort for hurricane Katrina.”

Timothy H. Edgar, Legislative Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, cautions, "Basic information that is crucial to oversight of the government's new spy powers under the Patriot Act -- such as how it is using new powers to obtain personal records -- has been cloaked in secrecy, making it impossible to judge the effectiveness of these powers or their impact on civil liberties."

Dr. Jack N. Behrman, former assistant secretary of commerce and professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina, notes, “The fact of secrecy makes the public question the truthfulness of what is made public. The final result is to weaken the institutions on which America was founded.”

And Brian J. Foley, a professor at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, says, "Secrecy is the enemy of freedom. When politicians hide their deeds, citizens are rendered impotent. They're disabled from accepting or rejecting -- or helping shape or even correct -- the actions of the government that is supposed to serve them. It's not a government by, for or of the people when citizens aren't even allowed to discover what it's doing."