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Secrecy in the Sunshine Era: The Promise and Failures of U.S. Open Government Laws


Secrecy in the Sunshine Era: The Promise and Failures of U.S. Open Government Laws Cover


Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

A series of laws passed in the 1970s promised the nation unprecedented transparency in government, a veritable "sunshine era." Though citizens enjoyed a new arsenal of secrecy-busting tools, officials developed a handy set of workarounds, from over classification to concealment, shredding, and burning. It is this dark side of the sunshine era that Jason Ross Arnold explores in the first comprehensive, comparative history of presidential resistance to the new legal regime, from Reagan-Bush to the first term of Obama-Biden.

After examining what makes a necessary and unnecessary secret, Arnold considers the causes of excessive secrecy, and why we observe variation across administrations. While some administrations deserve the scorn of critics for exceptional secrecy, the book shows excessive secrecy was a persistent problem well before 9/11, during Democratic and Republican administrations alike. Regardless of party, administrations have consistently worked to weaken the system's legal foundations.

The book reveals episode after episode of evasive maneuvers, rule bending, clever rhetorical gambits, and downright defiance; an army of secrecy workers in a dizzying array of institutions labels all manner of documents "top secret," while other government workers and agencies manage to suppress information with a "sensitive but unclassified" designation. For example, the health effects of Agent Orange, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria leaking out of Midwestern hog farms are considered too "sensitive" for public consumption. These examples and many more document how vast the secrecy system has grown during the sunshine era.

Rife with stories of vital scientific evidence withheld, justice eluded, legalities circumvented, and the public interest flouted, Secrecy in the Sunshine Era reveals how our information society has been kept in the dark in too many ways and for too long.


The 1970s Sunshine Era legislation and its unintended consequences of decreased access to government information and reductions in accountability.

About the Author

Jason Ross Arnold is assistant professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University. He has previously published articles on public ignorance, corruption, and public opinion.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments

1. Introduction

-The Promise

-the Pitfall

-Comparing Sunshine-Era Administrations

-Organization of the Book

2. Excessive Secrecy and Institutional Change

-Necessary and Unnecessary Secrecy

-What Do You Need to Know? What Do You Need to Not Know?

-The Consequences of Growing and Excessive Secrecy

-Explaining Excessive Secrecy

-Explaining Change in the Secrecy Regime

3. Explaining Change in the Secrecy Regime

-A "Pearl Harbor Sort of Purple American Fury": 9/11 as a National Security Crisis and a Window of Opportunity

-The Rise of Mosaic Theory

-Tightening up FOIA Administration: Returning to Reagan-Bush Rules

-Classified Information


4. Violating FACA from the Start: A History of Presidential Defiance

-The Bush-Cheney Administration

-The Clinton-Gore Administration

-Bush-Quayle: the Most FACA Compliant

-Reagan-Bush: FACA Defiers par Excellence


5. Secret Law: The "Sinister Trend That Has Gone Relatively Unnoticed"

-The Legality of Secret Law

-Secret Law in the OLC before Bush-Cheney

-Clinton-Gore Did Not Invent It: Secret Law in the Bush-Quayle and Reagan-bush OLCs

-Before Bush-Quayle

-Beyond the OLC, Part 1: Secret "Controlling Interpretations" of FISA

-Beyond the OLC, Part 2: National Security Directives

-Propaganda and Secret Law in the Bush-Cheney Years: Back to the OLC


6. Presidential Secrecy in the Courts

-Secret Evidence

-State Secrets Privilege

7. Secret Science: From Bush-Cheney to Bush-Quayle

-Secret Science

-The Bush-Cheney Administration

-"An Unprecedented Pattern of Behavior"?

-The Clinton-Gore Administration

-The Bush-Quayle Administration

8. Secret Science: the Reagan-Bush Administration

-A "Dense Fog of Concealment" about Agent Orange: Secret Data, a Bungled Study, and the Impact on Vietnam Veterans Constitutional Limitations

-The Wider War to Protect Dioxins and Their Manufacturers

-Concealing and Fudging Mortality Rates at the VA

-The OMB's New Filter

-Safeguarding Nuclear Secrets

-Other Ways to Keep Unclassified Information from Scientists


9. When All Else Fails: Shredding, Burning, Deleting, or Whatever It Takes

-Nixon's Advice

-The Shredding Party

-Shredding Secrets: When Blocking Access Is Not Enough

-National Security Archive versus Reagan, Bush, and Clinton

-Judicial Watch versus (Clinton-Gore) Department of Commerce

-The Bush-Cheney Administration


10. "The Most Open and Transparent Administration in History"?

-The Promise

-A "Glass Half Full"?

-"These Are Not Reflections of a "Most Transparent Administration"

-Secret Law

-Secrecy and the Courts

-The Federal Advisory Committee Act

-Secret Science

-Epilogue: Snowden's Revelations

11. Conclusion

-What Can Be Done?



Product Details

Arnold, Jason Ross
University Press of Kansas
Politics-United States Politics
Publication Date:

Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Politics » General
History and Social Science » Politics » United States » Foreign Policy
History and Social Science » Politics » United States » Politics

Secrecy in the Sunshine Era: The Promise and Failures of U.S. Open Government Laws New Hardcover
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Product details 556 pages University Press of Kansas - English 9780700619924 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , The 1970s Sunshine Era legislation and its unintended consequences of decreased access to government information and reductions in accountability.
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