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Published: Sunday, 3/30/2003

A penchant for secrecy

The Bush Administration is working diligently in its continuing attempt to become the most secretive keeper of government information in American history.

This time, the White House has rewritten a Clinton-era executive order that requires declassification of most federal documents that are at least 25 years old.

The administration has put off from April 17 until the end of 2006 a requirement for automatic declassification of information from foreign governments.

According to a report in the New York Times, the Bush initiative also allows reclassification of certain documents after they have already been made public.

The proposal is getting mixed reviews from historians, researchers, and anti-secrecy advocates. Some expected worse from an administration dedicated to clamping down on the flow of official information. Others say it merely confirms the White House's preference for secrecy and will inhibit scholarship.

During the first year of his presidency, when Mr. Bush signed an executive order circumventing the 1978 Presidential Records Act, there was little doubt as to the reason. The action stopped release of 68,000 pages of confidential communications from the Reagan Administration, some of which might have embarrassed Reaganites employed in the current White House, or his father, former President George H.W. Bush, who was vice president under Ronald Reagan.

Other observers say Mr. Bush is merely concerned about erosion of presidential power over the past couple of decades and is doing whatever he can to recapture it.

In any event, excessive government secrecy is an affront to a democratic government and an open society. The documents in question are more than two decades old, and most cannot be said to have actual national security implications.

At the risk of being repetitive, we ask again: What is Mr. Bush trying to hide?

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