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Why Is the Government Withholding Documents About JFK's Assassination?

JFK assassination documents offer surprising lessons about government secrecy -- and Obama's presidency.

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As the expression goes, sunshine is the best disinfectant. Opening up the nooks and crannies of government to public view was supposed to aid the process of discovering and rooting out the rot. This would, we were assured, help return Washington to the people. Obama selected Sunstein, a Harvard professor and old friend, to oversee this effort.

Not long ago, when I asked to discuss this with Sunstein, I was told he was “not available” for interviews.

Here’s the exchange:

From: Russ Baker
Sent: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 11:12 PM
To: Sunstein, Cass R.
Subject: interview request

Mr. Sunstein, wonder if I might be able to do a phone interview with you about Open Records policy?

From: Strom, Shayna L.
Sent: Thursday, April 12, 2012 12:25 PM
To: Russ Baker
Subject: FW: interview request

Unfortunately, Administrator Sunstein is unavailable for an interview.  That said, you might try the Archivist of the United States at NARA?  Best of luck!

Warmly,

Shayna

From: Russ Baker
Sent: Thursday, April 12, 2012 12:33 PM
To: Strom, Shayna L.
Subject: RE: interview request

Is he generally unavailable for interviews? What is the policy on that? Seems relevant given that this is about open government.

From: Strom, Shayna L.
Sent: Thursday, April 12, 2012 5:00 PM
To: Russ Baker
Cc: Mack, Moira K.
Subject: RE: interview request

No, he’s not generally unavailable—but the Archivist is intimately involved in one of our big open government initiatives (records modernization), so he’s just a particularly good person to speak to on this.

So the person in charge of the overall governmental effort on open records wants me to talk to the person running one of the agencies that is …  having difficulties complying with the spirit if not letter of Obama’s announcement.

No Mr. Sunshine, That Mr. Sunstein

Actually, Sunstein has good reason to lay low. Watch this slightly raw  video  of someone confronting him about a paper  he wrote a few years ago. In it, he actually advocated for “cognitive infiltration” of groups that espouse alternative views on controversial issues like the events of Sept. 11 (i. e, conspiracy theories).

Here’s a quote from Sunstein’s paper:

[W]e suggest a distinctive tactic for breaking up the hard core of extremists who supply conspiracy theories: cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, whereby government agents or their allies (acting either virtually or in real space, and either openly or anonymously) will undermine the crippled epistemology of those who subscribe to such theories. They do so by planting doubts about the theories and stylized facts that circulate within such groups, thereby introducing beneficial cognitive diversity.

Sunstein is a sort of caricature of everything people don’t like and don’t trust about government. The fact that he’s in charge of “open government” speaks volumes.

Apparently not a great enthusiast for the Freedom of Information Act, Sunstein has said that judges are not qualified to second-guess executive branch decisions on what the public should or should not be told.

In light of this record, it’s useful to consider Sunstein’s broader mandate: to make government more efficient and accountable. Releasing records involves, in part, cutting red tape. Another aspect of cutting red tape is getting rid of bureaucracy. And that’s where things get even more interesting. Under cover of making government more accountable, Sunstein gets to push for elimination of regulations that corporations find onerous.  Here’s a Washington Post article on Sunstein holding up (for more than a year) food safety legislation that the industry doesn’t like.

 
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