WASHINGTON -- As Republicans struggle to ramp up the rhetoric over the White House leaks on national security the way Democrats did on the Valerie Plame leak, everyone has forgotten the skunk at this garden party.
And that is the colossal growth of the secrecy business, a cabal no one is really trying to stop. An obscure agency created under pressure from the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan reported that no fewer than 92 million new classified documents were created last year.
The number may be wildly underestimated because it does not account for electronic snooping on Americans and others by black operations such as the National Security Agency.
One official of the tracking agency, the U.S. Information Security Oversight Office, said the number of classified documents has been rising at a rate of 30 million a year.
In 2003, Bush appointees outed Plame as a classified Central Intelligence Agency employee as revenge for a report that her husband wrote criticizing Bush's Iraq War. A special prosecutor was named and some lives were ruined. Days ago, Attorney General Eric Holder quickly took control of investigations into White House press leaks of top-secret actions against al-Qaida and Iran's nuclear program that made President Barack Obama look tougher than Steven Seagal, but without the top knot.
One report had Obama handpicking candidates for drone kills.
What the Obama White House did for the president's political benefit was cherry-pick the vast, fast-growing national forest of official secrets Obama and his appointees know about but you can't.
There is no Pat Moynihan today among the 535 members of the House and Senate who sees as clearly as he did the dangers to American freedom as the unlimited creation and collection of official secrets.
Secrets are government regulation, he said, a form of control, and a way to tinker with public behavior.
By two measurements, Obama appears not to shrink at this. The information security office created at Moynihan's insistence requires that the government declassify millions of documents every year. Under Obama, the agency reports, fewer documents have been declassified than under any president since 1997. Liberal outlets such as Salon.com and the Government Accountability Project report that more whistleblowers and leakers -- six -- have been prosecuted by Obama under the 1917 Espionage Act than by all preceding administrations combined. Most of these blew the whistle on the torture of prisoners by the Bush administration.
Secrets have always been big business here; larger than ever since 9/11. Terrorism has been the reason -- and the excuse -- for lobbyists and political donors to sell the government billions worth of equipment. You see a fraction of it when you board a plane or cross the border. Powerful contractors have sold the Homeland Security Department so many drones it doesn't know what to do with them. Combined with the military-industrial complex, the anti-terrorism business has become an almost irresistible force.
The Moynihan commission, which led to the new declassification agency, warned: "Excessive secrecy has significant consequences, when as a result policymakers are not fully informed, government is not held accountable for its actions, and the public cannot engage in informed debate." Leaking for political advantage, the report said, was so commonplace that it "degrades public service" by advantaging "the least scrupulous players."
Douglas Turner is Washington columnist for the Buffalo News.