Democracy Declassified

If Helms and Moynihan are for it, who could be against it? Getting rid of needless government secrecy is what brings together the openly Republican Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and transparently Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York. We won't conceal our support for the secrecy-reform legislation they introduced last week, joining Rep. Lee Hamilton (D) of Indiana and Rep. Larry Combest (R) of Texas.

The effort for change in classifying and declassifying documents is essential for the good of a democratic country, said the bipartisan quartet. Their bill would seek to reduce knee-jerk classifying and increase accountability by requiring officials to identify themselves and justify use of the "top secret" stamp. And declassification would apply to most documents after 10 years instead of the half-century that has been all too common.

Plenty of protection for necessary secrecy is spelled out in the report of a secrecy commission headed by Senator Moynihan. Today's encrusted system is said to cost taxpayers more than $5 billion a year while concealing much that would be helpful for citizens to know - and some things that they do know, as Senator Helms wryly suggested. He told of not being able to discuss what he heard at Pentagon briefings because it was classified, even though it was already in the newspapers.

Let's not throw out the baby of accountable classification with the bathwater of excess secrecy. But let's do throw out that bathwater.

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