Tuesday 24 July 2007
Washington - Constituents called Rep. Peter DeFazio's office, worried there was a conspiracy buried in the classified portion of a White House plan for operating the government after a terrorist attack.
As a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, DeFazio, D-Ore., is permitted to enter a secure "bubbleroom" in the Capitol and examine classified material. So he asked the White House to see the secret documents.
On Wednesday, DeFazio got his answer: DENIED.
"I just can't believe they're going to deny a member of Congress the right of reviewing how they plan to conduct the government of the United States after a significant terrorist attack," DeFazio said.
Homeland Security Committee staffers told his office that the White House initially approved his request, but it was later quashed. DeFazio doesn't know who did it or why.
"We're talking about the continuity of the government of the United States of America," DeFazio said. "I would think that would be relevant to any member of Congress, let alone a member of the Homeland Security Committee."
Bush administration spokesman Trey Bohn declined to say why DeFazio was denied access: "We do not comment through the press on the process that this access entails. It is important to keep in mind that much of the information related to the continuity of government is highly sensitive."
Norm Ornstein, a legal scholar who studies government continuity at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said he "cannot think of one good reason" to deny access to a member of Congress who serves on the Homeland Security Committee.
"I find it inexplicable and probably reflective of the usual knee-jerk overextension of executive power that we see from this White House," Ornstein said.
This is the first time DeFazio has been denied access to documents. DeFazio has asked Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., to help him access the documents.
"Maybe the people who think there's a conspiracy out there are right," DeFazio said.
Jeff Kosseff can be contacted at email@example.com.
Register-Guard | Editorial
Monday 23 July 2007
If the Bush administration wanted to fuel conspiracy theories about its classified plan for maintaining governmental control in the wake of an apocalyptic terror attack, it could not have come up with a better strategy than refusing to let Congressman Peter DeFazio examine it.
The Oregon Democrat recently requested permission to enter a secure "bubbleroom" in the Capitol and examine the secret White House plan. As a member of the Homeland Security Committee, DeFazio has the requisite security clearance - and a compelling rationale for reviewing the documents.
Last Wednesday, DeFazio received word that his request had been denied. Through Homeland Security Committee staffers, he learned the White House had initially granted his request, but that it later was rejected. There was no explanation of why - and no word about who made the final decision.
Bush administration spokesman Trey Bohn refused to shed any light. "It is important to keep in mind that much of the information related to the continuity of government is highly sensitive," he said.
Ummm, yes. That's why there are established procedures to make certain that only those members of Congress with the proper security clearance see classified documents. DeFazio has such clearance and has used it numerous times to gain access to sensitive materials. Until Wednesday, he had never been denied permission.
It's difficult to think of any reasonable explanation why any member of Congress should not be able to review this plan. As a member of the Homeland Security Committee, DeFazio's case for access is simply beyond any doubt.
The plan is intended to maintain governmental control in the wake of terrorist attacks, or an overwhelming natural disaster, in the United States. It reportedly envisions 15 crisis scenarios, and shifts doomsday planning for the first time from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to officials inside the White House.
Not surprisingly, the plan has generated plenty of buzz among both legal scholars and conspiracy-minded bloggers on the Internet. Given the Bush administration's penchant for secrecy and history of favoring the steady expansion of presidential powers, some have suggested the policy may be written in such a manner that makes it too easy to invoke presidential powers such as martial law.
By denying DeFazio's reasonable request to view these documents, the White House has done much to encourage and nothing to quell such speculation. The administration would be wise to reverse its decision and allow DeFazio, or any other member of Congress with the required clearance, full and immediate access.
If the White House doesn't do so, the American public is left with this unsettling thought from Congressman DeFazio: "Maybe the people who think there's a conspiracy out there are right."