Thursday, August 9, 2012

Secrecy and Disclosure: Cheney Offers Romney Free Advice

As vice-president, Dick Cheney's most effective tool was always stealth. Listen the unsolicited advice he has given candidate Mitt Romney about disclosure. Of course, the question is whether Cheney's advice can actually win elections or hide evidence?

I have recently come to the conclusion that the Republican Party is now living in a world where rewards and punishment, shame and honor, have been turned upside down and made completely irrelevant.
The very people that should be hanging their head in utter shame, that should be wear identity-hiding beards and dark glasses or living in total seclusion in a backwoods cabin in Montana are now held up as experts or authorities.

Republican failures are constantly being interviewed and asked their opinions. Why would any intelligent person care?

So when I read about former vice president Dick Cheney giving his “valuable” advice to the presumptive nominee for the Republican party, Mitt Romney, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, the conservative media reveres people like Cheney and think, despite the historical record, their opinions are extremely important.
Cheney, 71, weighed in on the 2012 presidential race, wading into an issue that has been plaguing presumptive nominee Mitt Romney: tax returns. Back in 2000, as a potential vice-presidential pick, Cheney released ten years of tax returns. Then Governor Bush at the time also released ten years. Romney has released just two, though Cheney says he has "great confidence" in what has been released.

"If he had two years out, they'd want four. If he had four years out, they'd want six. If he had six years out, they'd want ten," said Cheney."It's a distraction," he added. "I'd say do what he feels like doing. If this is his decision, fine. Let's get on with it."
One of the enduring problems with the Republican party is its inability to discern good advice that brings honor to the party and bad advice that allowed its politicians to get away with something. 
This is a case in point.
When it comes to keeping damaging information away from public scrutiny, Cheney should be considered an something of an authority. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean wrote,

"Bush and Cheney assumed office planning to take total and absolute control of executive branch information. The truth will be what they say it is. They will decide what the public should know and when, if ever.”
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Requested by Rep. Henry Waxman of California, Secrecy in the Bush Administration, a 81-page report produced in 2007 by the Committee for Government Reform, is a carefully composed and detailed exploration of the policies and methods that were used to effectively block any and all independent oversight of decisions by Bush officials. 
Here are its conclusions:
The report finds that there has been a consistent pattern in the Administration’s actions: laws that are designed to promote public access to information have been undermined, while laws that authorize the government to withhold information or to operate in secret have repeatedly been expanded. The cumulative result is an unprecedented assault on the principle of open government....
The Bush Administration has systematically sought to limit disclosure of government records while expanding its authority to operate in secret.
The Washington Post pointed the finger squarely at Dick Cheney himself for this climate of secrecy.
Stealth is among Cheney's most effective tools. Man-size Mosler safes, used elsewhere in government for classified secrets, store the workaday business of the office of the vice president. Even talking points for reporters are sometimes stamped "Treated As: Top Secret/SCI." Experts in and out of government said Cheney's office appears to have invented that designation, which alludes to "sensitive compartmented information," the most closely guarded category of government secrets. By adding the words "treated as," they said, Cheney seeks to protect unclassified work as though its disclosure would cause "exceptionally grave damage to national security."
As vice-president, Cheney went to unprecedented lengths, depending on your view, either to protect information or to prevent oversight. In order to do this, he discarded the long-established system of classification for official documents, which eventually made such a mess of the system that President Obama had to issue an executive order to set things right again.

In December of 2009 President Obama issued Executive Order 13526, which sought to declassify and to re-organize the classification process. The order attempts to rectify the chaotic system that had developed under Bush-Cheney.

The Post goes on to outline Cheney's general attitude towards the public's right to know.
Across the board, the vice president’s office goes to unusual lengths to avoid transparency. Cheney declines to disclose the names or even the size of his staff, generally releases no public calendar and ordered the Secret Service to destroy his visitor logs. His general counsel has asserted that “the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch,” and is therefore exempt from rules governing either. Cheney is refusing to observe an executive order on the handling of national security secrets, and he proposed to abolish a federal office that insisted on auditing his compliance.”
Of course, no matter how many questions about propriety in a supposedly open and free republic, Cheney was able to get away with this type of behavior after he became vice-president. 

As a candidate, however, it was another story- as Romney is learning. Dealing with public scrutiny after you have stepped into the White House is naturally easier. You simply tell reporters "We have given you people all you need to know." 
Candidates (or their wives) express such arrogance like this at their own risk. 

In Cheney's case, Bush apologists might excuse the vice-president’s preoccupation with keeping secrets as a means of keeping vital information out of the hands of terrorists. 
Yet that fetish began well before 911. 

In the summer before the September 11 attacks, Cheney and General Accounting Office had been locked in a legal battle over its request for further information about a secret energy task force, chaired by Dick Cheney. The battle went on through that summer, with lawyers for the administration claiming that GAO had no authority. 
Later a White House document would be leaked to the Washington Post showing that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides. Earlier executives, having been called to testify at a congressional hearing, would even deny that meeting took place at all.

What actually occurred in the meeting we still do not know. We can only speculate, ponder and imagine and through this very unusual and defensive behavior, one might easily assume the worst. It's the stuff of conspiracy theories. 

That, in fact, is the problem with a government keeping secrets. When the public, either directly or through its elected representatives, is denied access to the day to day running of its own government, it creates an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust, whether warranted or unwarranted. A vacuum of information is filled with conspiracy theories or a vague sense of suspicion.

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Whether Romney is quite as foolish to follow advice from people like Rove or Cheney and half a dozen other Republican failures is anybody’s guess. But one thing is certain. Basing policy on such advice will inevitably lead to the same mistakes and more public distrust of Washington. Even now, Romney’s refusal to release his tax returns is causing voters to question what on earth he could be hiding. It has to be big, they imagine. After all, why else would he be so adamant in his refusal to expose his tax history?

Despite Cheney's arrogant demand to “get on with it,” many in the Republican party are not sure that this is a problem that can be wished away. Representative Walter Jones recently told reporters that Romney’s refusal to release more than two year of returns could be politically damaging. 

Said Jones: "I don't think this will go away. And if we're still talking about this in September, he's in deep trouble."

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