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Comparing Secrecy

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Comparing Secrecy

Comparing Secrecy

Comparing Secrecy

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What role has secrecy played in the tenure of Vice President Dick Cheney? How do his actions compare with those of past leaders, such as President Nixon?

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Vice President Dick Cheney is taking heat for refusing to hand over information to an office at the National Archives. Cheney says that he is exempt from a presidential order that requires executive branch offices to report how much materials they label as classified.

That comes as no surprise to NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr. He's been reading about Cheney's many efforts to keep information secret.

DANIEL SCHORR: In January 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice learned from a newspaper story that two years earlier, a memo supported by Vice President Dick Cheney had relaxed the restrictions on interrogation of terrorist suspects. This is revealed today in one of a series of articles on Cheney in the Washington Post. An angry Rice was reported to have said to then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, there will be no more secret opinions on international and national security law.

But this is only one incident in the White House career of Dick Cheney, who apparently operates on the principle that secrecy is power. He is not the first to exhibit an obsession with secrecy. Indeed, the Watergate scandal was essentially spurred by breaches of security in the Nixon years like the publication of the Pentagon Papers.

Nixon's secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, could fly into a fury over a loss of control because of an untimely leak. Although, in a more mellow mood, he said, the illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer.

But Cheney must have set some kind of record for secret keeping, which he applies not only to national security matters, but almost anything that might inconvenience him.

Early in the Bush administration, he headed a task force on energy policy and refused to say which energy representatives he had consulted. When he was asked to report to the National Archives on his office's handling of classified material under an executive order, Cheney tried to abolish the office that made the request. He'd called for the abolition of a longstanding program under which the Secret Service kept logs of his office visitors.

He was one of those at a meeting - secret, of course - which decided to ask Attorney General John Ashcroft on his hospital bed to renew a possibly illegal surveillance program. And when he shot a fellow hunter in the face, there was a daylong delay before Cheney agreed to have that incident made public.

In the new book entitled "Nation of Secrets," Ted Gup writes that secrets pose a threat to democracy and to the American way of life. But apparently, not to secretkeeper Dick Cheney's way of life.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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