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Editorial: Light from the North.

Excessive government secrecy hurts the global fight against terrorism. And as Sunshine Week approaches this month, don't take our word for it -- ask Canada's spy master, Jim Judd.

The director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) warns that Western values of free and open public debate and expression are essential weapons in responding to the threat of terrorism, and that a nation tosses them aside at its peril. Speaking recently at the 2007 Raoul Wallenberg International Human Rights Symposium, Judd put the case plainly: "More broadly, there is a risk that, absent adequate public dialogue and a surfeit of secrecy, the justification for action by governments against terrorism will be undermined or misunderstood. This in turn can put in jeopardy the legitimacy of the government response."

Judd is no starry-eyed idealist. In the same speech, he warned that Canada and the West in general face "an adaptive adversary that learns from its mistakes," and has proven alarmingly successful at nurturing homegrown fanatics. Nor is he a loose-lips kind of guy. In a speech titled "Transparency and Intelligence" that he delivered a couple of weeks after the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, Judd forcefully reminded his audience that the CSIS cannot talk about the methods, identity, or whereabouts of its operations or operatives.

But he also pointedly quoted a predecessor who used to say, "We are not a secret organization, but an organization with secrets." Public discussion of government intelligence aims and output is not only legitimate, Judd says, it's vital to the strength of a free society.

Contrast that to the Bush administration's Kafkaesque zeal for secrecy. Intelligence is often described as a hall of mirrors. For this White House, the more apt, and fittingly nonsensical, metaphor is a hall of black holes. You know how far we've retreated from demanding government accountability when even transparency advocates are thrilled that the administration agreed to place the National Security Agency's probably unconstitutional wholesale eavesdropping scheme under the "supervision" of a secret court that, so far as we know -- and we don't much, goodness knows -- has never turned down a government surveillance request.

U.S. newspapers created the open- government initiative Sunshine Week -- taking place from March 11-17 this year -- and, as we report elsewhere in this issue, they've successfully leveraged the campaign to affect specific improvements in transparency in their hometowns and states. What's desperately needed, though, is a turn back to openness at the very top of the federal government.

We long ago gave up thinking this White House will ever listen to newspapers. But maybe Bush, Cheney, & Co. will heed the warnings of a national intelligence chief -- one who didn't cook the books about WMD, and is willing to serve in the best tradition of transparent and unfettered discussion of public matters.

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Publication:Editor & Publisher
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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