‘Ten Most Wanted’ List Highlights Government Secrecy

News Conference 2 pm Thurs. April 15
National Press Club, Zenger Room
Embargoed for release 2 p.m. Thurs. April 15
Contact: Rick Blum, 202-234-8494 x238

Washington, D.C., April 15, 2004-A new coalition advocating less secrecy and more openness in government opened its own doors Thursday with the release of its survey report, “Ten Most Wanted Documents for 2004.”

The survey results indicate the government should disclose more information to the public than its current policies and practices achieve. OpenTheGovernment.org, comprised of 33 organizations working on freedom of information issues, announced its creation and the report at a 2 p.m. news conference at the National Press Club.

“We are witnessing a broad expansion of government secrecy that runs counter to our core democratic values,” said Rick Blum, who is Coordinator of the coalition, and Director of the Freedom of Information Project of OMB Watch. “We must reverse this course so the public can access the information it needs to hold our government accountable, make our families safer, and generally strengthen democracy.”

The list targets secrecy in all three branches of government and is the result of an Internet survey, in which respondents ranked documents covering a broad spectrum of issues, from women’s rights to animal welfare to our government’s fight against terrorism. Roughly 500 people completed the online survey. Of these, 76 percent said they have personally accessed federal government information within the last two years. See www.OpenTheGovernment.org for background, a list of coalition members and the full report (2 p.m. April 15).

Nine in ten thought the government classifies too much information, abuses legitimate privacy protections, and uses the threat of terrorism and national security concerns to withhold information. Eighty-eight percent also said trade secrets and business confidentiality too often shield information the public should know about.

“Public pressure is essential to keep our government open,” said Tom Blanton, co-chair of the OpenTheGovernment.org coalition and Executive Director of the National Security Archive, referring to the recent release of the previously secret August 6, 2001 President’s Daily Brief (PDB). That PDB was originally ranked #7 in the Top Ten List, until its release April 10, 2004.

Across the many issues covered by the list of Ten Most Wanted Documents, three themes stood out:

  • First, respondents expressed a deep skepticism about the information the government provides.
  • Second, the government should do more to make its day-to-day operations open to the public.
  • Finally, the government should reverse its unprecedented expansion of secrecy and give the public a more open and complete accounting for its efforts to make our communities safer.

List of the Ten Most Wanted Documents for 2004

1. The 28 Pages: Secret Pages of the Congressional Joint Inquiry into 9/11 Intelligence Failures
2. Type of crime investigated each time a Patriot Act power was invoked
3. A list of the contaminants found in the sources of our drinking water
4. A number of court cases partially or totally closed to the public and an explanation why for each
5. Industry-written reports on chemical plants’ risks to communities

6. Identities of those detained after 9/11 on immigration charges or as material witnesses
7. Gifts from lobbyists to Senators and their staff
8. Federal contracts, grants and other agreements, their total value (in dollars), records documenting violations, and fines and other federal enforcement actions

9. All changes made to publicly available versions of congressional legislation before a committee vote
10. Congressional Research Service Reports

OpenTheGovernment.org is a new unprecedented coalition, bringing together First Amendment advocates, good government groups, journalists, environmentalists, and organizations representing working men and women. The coalition will work to stop the growth in government secrecy and will advocate for greater public access to government information. The coalition is housed at OMB Watch in Washington, D.C. The web site is at www.openthegovernment.org.

The 10 Most Wanted Documents in 2004 was authored by Rick Blum, Director of Freedom of Information at OMB Watch, and Ari Schwartz, Associate Director at Center for Democracy and Technology.