Top Secret

I wish to announce that I have taken actions that have saved hundreds of American lives.

What kinds of actions?

That’s classified.

But since you write columns for a living, you must have dealt with some organizations. Who are they?

That’s classified.

When did you take those actions?

That’s classified. Listen, I’m not going to discuss intelligence matters except to say that I am simultaneously smiting the enemies of America and protecting Americans’ civil liberties, obeying the law and saying my prayers every night.

With all due respect, sir, how do we know you’re doing that if every aspect of it is classified?

Trust me.

Well, if you trust George W. Bush, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that’s just come on the market at an amazingly low price. Some secrecy in government is necessary. We don’t need to publish directions for making hydrogen bombs or announce in advance troop actions in a war zone. We shouldn’t reveal the identities of our covert agents or their sources. But beyond these obvious few things, very little in government really deserves to be kept secret.

Classifying stuff as "secret" is a farce and quite often a deliberate cover-up. A friend who served in Army intelligence recalls clipping stories from mass-circulation newspapers in Tokyo and stamping them "Top Secret." Another friend who finally got his FBI dossier after a two-year fight with the FBI by using the Freedom of Information Act discovered there was nothing in this "classified" dossier except newspaper clippings. These are true stories.

When I was in my last hitch in the Army, I had a secret clearance. One day, however, I had to type a report that was Top Secret. I can assure you that nothing in our unit was worth keeping secret. At any rate, I typed it and put the Top Secret cover on it and gave it to the commanding officer.

In a few minutes, he said he wanted to make some minor changes. "Fine," I said, "give them to me, and I’ll retype it." "I can’t do that," he said, "because you don’t have a Top Secret clearance." I kid you not, he really said that. "Sir," I reminded him, "I just typed the whole report." "Yes," he replied with an "aha" tone of voice, "but that was before the Top Secret cover was put on it."

You might suppose I reminded him that it was I who put the cover on, but I didn’t. One thing I learned in the Army is that it is futile to attempt to reason with a bureaucratic mind, especially one that outranks you. Excuse me for not sharing the general enthusiasm for all things military and governmental, but I have been too close to both. It’s my belief that wars are contests to see which side makes fewer blunders. So far, we’ve been lucky in our choice of opponents.

The current Bush administration is easily the most secretive, classified-happy administration in history, and probably with good reason, given its cronyism, incompetent appointments, blunders, corruption and deceptions. Compared with George W. Bush, Richard Nixon is beginning to look normal.

Bush’s outrage about being exposed for breaking the law in regard to National Security Agency surveillance domestically shows how arbitrary and stupid this administration is. The law says you must get a warrant from a secret intelligence court. These courts have almost never rejected a request for a warrant. Therefore, the same people Bush ordered spied on without a warrant could have been spied on legally, except for Bush’s Caesar complex. Except for the kinky sex, Bush far more resembles Caligula than either Julius or Octavius Caesar.

Bush is absolutely convinced he’s right, doesn’t want to hear any dissent and thinks people who disagree with him are disloyal enemies. If those aren’t the mental characteristics of a wannabe dictator, then let’s nominate Saddam Hussein as humanitarian of the year.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.