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6.28.02
Politics and Economy:
Bill Moyers on Government Secrecy


Since our report on Secret Government historians and other scholars joined with public interest groups to challenge in court the Bush Executive Order limiting access to Presidential records. Their pressure has led to release of thousands of pages of documents while the suit is now pending before a federal judge.

View the Commentary
Bill Moyers
Bill Moyers
on Government Secrecy

Vice President Cheney, meanwhile, continues to lead the fight to keep Americans from knowing what their government knew about terrorist threats before September 11 including those two messages the National Security Agency intercepted on the eve of 9/11 but didn't translate until after the attacks.

The government's obsession with secrecy is all the more disturbing because we are fighting a war without limits — without a visible enemy and no decisive encounters. We don't know what's going on, how much it's costing, where it's being fought, and whether it's effective. That gives a handful of people enormous power to keep us in the dark. And it justifies other abuses.

Vice President Cheney still resists our knowing how corporations were allowed to decide the Bush energy policies that handed them billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies. This is potentially a bigger scandal than the heist of Teapot Dome that rocked the Harding Administration. That one too involved vast amounts of oil. Look it up on pbs.org. It's no secret.

Teapot Dome Scandal Short History

"I have no trouble with my enemies, it's my… friends…that keeping me walking the floors at night."
President Warren G. Harding

Revealed publicly in 1924, the Teapot Dome Scandal was the first concrete exposure of corruption to mire the American political system. Due to the scandal, a Presidency was tarnished, a cabinet member was imprisoned and the public got its first taste of corporate corruption in government.

The origins of the scandal date back to the conservation policies of the Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson administrations. One aspect of these conservation policies was the creation of naval petroleum reserves in Teapot Dome, Wyoming and Elk Hills and Buena Vista, California. These policies brought the protest of oil companies and many politicians who claimed conservation was unnecessary and that private firms could supply all the oil the Navy needed.

During the Harding Administration in 1921, oil companies' complaints found a pliant advocate of their interests, Senator Albert B. Fall. A senator from New Mexico, Fall became Harding's Secretary of Interior. An opponent of conservation, Fall quickly moved to open the naval reserves to private exploitation. Receiving a $400,000 kickback, Fall leased the naval reserves to Harry Sinclair's Mammoth Oil Company and the Elk Hills site to Edward Doheny's Pan American Petroleum Company. Although Fall attempted to keep the lid on the scandal, a dramatic increase in his standard of living raised suspicions. An inquiry soon followed with a U.S. Senate Committee publicly announcing the scandal in 1924.

Throughout the second half of the decade, civil and criminal suits were filed against those implicated in the scandal. A 1927 ruling by the Supreme Court returned the Teapot Dome and Elk Hills oil reserves to the Navy, stating their acquisition was obtained through corruption. Two years later, Albert Fall was convicted to one year in prison and a $100,000 dollar fine for his role in the scandal. The corporation titans that administered the bribes escaped prosecution although Harry Sinclair did receive a short sentence for contempt and jury tampering.

Sources: PBS American Presidents ; United States Senate Historical Minutes.

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Secret Government: Freedom of Information Act

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