US Government secrecy at all time high - more documents than ever being classified as secret

According to the New York Times, American government secrecy has reached an all time high with federal departments classifying documents at the rate of 125 a minute as they create new categories of secret documents with titles such as "sensitive security information."

"A record 15.6 million documents were classified last year, nearly double the number in 2001, according to the federal Information Security Oversight Office. Meanwhile, the declassification process, which made millions of historical documents available annually in the 1990's, has slowed to a relative crawl, from a high of 204 million pages in 1997 to just 28 million pages last year."

The increase in secrecy began after the September 11 attacks in 2001, as officials sought to prevent access to information that could inform Al Qaeda operatives about America's vulnerabilities. These concerns have not faded - this week the Department of Health and Human Services tried unsuccessfully to prevent publication of a scientific paper about the threat of a poisoned milk supply on the ground that it was "a road map for terrorists."

Thomas H. Kean, chairman of the September 11 Commission and a former Republican governor of New Jersey, said the failure to prevent the 2001 attacks was not caused by leaks of sensitive information but by the barriers to sharing information between agencies and with the public: "You'd just be amazed at the kind of information that's classified - everyday information, things we all know from the newspaper. We're better off with openness. The best ally we have in protecting ourselves against terrorism is an informed public."

Increase in the Number of Documents Classified by the Government (New York Times online, 3 July 2005) - free registration required to access news service