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Archive Senior Fellow John Prados Talks Secrecy in Oregon

November 23, 2009

Appearing before a standing-room-only crowd in Portland, Oregon, last week, National Security Archive senior fellow John Prados spoke on the perils of government secrecy. At the event sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Oregon and Portland State University, Prados focused in on several aspects of the problem of government secrecy, including the obstacles facing President Barack Obama in his effort to reform the secrecy system, the cumbersome system that exists for releasing classified documents, vested interests opposing declassification, complications arising from actions by the previous Bush administration, troublesome legal precedents such as the “state secrets privilege” doctrine, and the sway of vague concepts of “national security” which make courts reluctant to engage secrecy issues. The audience proved very receptive to the presentation, and various audience questions repeatedly made the point, in different forms, that the American people remain largely unaware of these problems. Prados encouraged Oregonians to make their opinions clear in letters to congressional representatives, letters to the editor of media outlets, radio talk shows, and other forums. World Affairs Council Vice President Shelby Kardas and Professor David Kinsella of Portland State University presided at the event. Kinsella, in particular, lauded the work of the National Security Archive on secrecy issues in his comments.

As part of his visit to Oregon, Prados also gave a guest lecture to Professor Daniel Tichenor’s “American Presidency” class at the University of Oregon in Eugene, exploring the broad concept of “national security” with the students. Prados noted how the idea of national security was a creation of the Cold War era and had been adopted without explicit discussion of the definition of the concept, and how additional elements have been tacked onto the original concept over the years, again without any debate regarding what should or should not to be included in the concept. The talk covered features of how presidents have dealt with the challenges of national security, how they have organized for national security, and the danger that an excessively broad definition of national security may come to threaten other democratic values.

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