There are benefits in the sense that there's still a certain level of confidence. But there are liabilities because you can coordinate and manipulate better as the instruments of oversight are more under your control. You don't have so many rogue operations.
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One of the things that will probably need to be addressed is in the treatment of history, i.e. the Presidential Papers Act. If they can act with impunity, if they know that what they're doing is not going to see the light of day anytime in their lifetime, if they have the right to withhold information from the public, then presidents are given a vastly freer hand.
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Every effort is made to control information. Secrecy is just one of the toggles on their control board. The mindset is in place, and they've done a lot of hiring over eight years, not just political appointees. And they've done a lot of firing or driving people out who might have countermanded or resisted. So, institutionally, it's not going to be simply a matter of flipping the switch to undo it. You're going have to bring in people dedicated to transparency, and you have to demonstrate that there are rewards for candor.
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If all these guys think that nothing is going to come out for 100 years, they're going to act a whole lot more boldly. So we need to get back into the declassification business. This notion of overclassification is not just a bleeding-heart liberal issue. When everything is classified, nothing is classified.
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An attitudinal sea change. I think that's the hardest one to fix. Presidential directives, bills, provisions can all be rescinded, repealed, amended, but attitudes linger. The hardest thing is going to be to try to reverse an attitude, a bunker mentality that equates secrecy with either security or heightened efficiency and that regards transparency as an invitation to mischief and trespass. This default position of operating in the shadows is going to be somewhat appealing to whomever inherits office.
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I don't think the question is if should we have a shield law. I think the question is what kind of shield law we should have. Yes, I'd like to see a federal shield law, but if and only if it provides genuine safeguards and doesn't green-light prosecutors and judges and litigants from going after the press and getting things to which they should not be entitled. It's not a simple kind of litmus test.
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Whistleblowers is another aspect that needs to be addressed. We have to restore the protections of whistleblowers and also the encouragement and rewards. It shouldn't just be that they don't get crucified; it should be that they are again folk heroes, or celebrated for bringing critical matters to public attention, as opposed to traitors.
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When you get new people in, you're going to have a breath of fresh air and there's going to be a window when people will decide what direction to go. It'll be determined by outside events, by the personalities that occupy those positions, and by the treatment they receive both from the press and the public, of the honeymoon period.
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The press is going to have to learn anew that it's possible to work in an environment that is not so toxic and to readopt those kinds of techniques. The relationship between the press and the Clinton White House during the later period was not a healthy one. There was a lot of hostility and a lot of suspicion. This administration has done systematically what no other administration had done. They came in with a corporate mentality, an ability to stay on script that was without parallel.
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I love the idea of a shield law; I don't know of any journalist who doesn't love the idea of a shield law. It's all in the details. Some of the shield laws that were floating around sounded good, but when you looked at them, exceptions or exclusions or broadness in the language really invited some problems.
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You have tens, hundreds of thousands of people in government, and just as many among contractors, who feel totally comfortable writing at the top of the document "internal use only," "official use only," and a million other synonyms, all of which amount to "none of your business" to the public.
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The real secrets start leaking out when there are too many secrets because people can't remember what's a real secret. There's a very famous line by National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy: "If you guard your toothbrushes and your diamonds with equal zeal, you'll lose fewer toothbrushes and more diamonds." And that's where we are right now.
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