Probably more than anything else, “Drain the swamp” was the slogan of the Deplorables in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Candidate Trump introduced the phrase to describe his ethics program in mid-October, but it quickly came to sum up, part battle-cry, part prayer, the anti-Establishment fervor that would carry him to the White House on November 8.
There is more to “draining the swamp” than pulling the plug on today’s Washington Establishment. There is a vast historical swamp that President Trump must drain also; that murky place where generations of government secrets stay hidden, whether still classified, or declassified but still “redacted” (censored). While the Washington Establishment may draw staying power from keeping its secrets secret, these records of our government’s deliberations and actions belong to the American people.
I am not referring to anything, once released, which would adversely affect national defense or security; the military; or intelligence operations. I am talking mostly about very old papers, records, memos drawn up by federal officials forty, fifty, seventy, or more years ago ostensibly on behalf of their employers, the American people. Treating these relics as “state secrets” is more than just absurd; it is an outrage against democratic governance. But it also exacts terrible costs. For those Americans in the POW/MIA community still waiting for “secret” information about their lost and missing loved ones, there is the excruciating human toll. Additionally, without the fullest record possible of seminal events and key figures, not only is our understanding of the past incomplete and thus flawed; so, too, is our understanding of the present and ability to rise to its challenges.
A natural question occurs: If there is no security risk to releasing such documents, what reason keeps them from the American people to whom they belong?
There may well be logistical delays that stymie this flow of history from the shadow of the file folder to the light of public release; however, a large part of the answer goes to the heart of the Establishment hold, not just on contemporary Washington, but on American history itself – the story of our country’s life and times. There are vast powers to gain from setting and perpetuating national myths; by controlling entry into the nation’s pantheon of heroes; and these powers continue to be used to help drive the course of events. (This is a theme of American Betrayal.)
In the case of seemingly eternal classification, that Establishment hold on history is a literal hold. Take the state of records released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as discussed in Blacklisted by History by the late journalist and author M. Stanton Evans: “In case after significant case, entries have been held back or heavily “redacted” (blacked out), sometimes for dozens of pages at a stretch. In nearly every instance, such redactions concern materials fifty years of age and counting.”
Noting the absence of national security interests in keeping these “ancient data” secret, Evans continued: “Without the documents referred to, and without the items blacked out in the records, attempts to chronicle our domestic Cold War, while not entirely futile, are subject to the most serious limits.”
As an example, Evans described a one-page memo written by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to Attorney General Tom Clarke seventy-one years ago. The memo identifies a federal employee named David Wahl, whose government career included stints inside wartime agencies including the OSS, and whom Evans described as a “shadowy Cold War figure,” as having been, in Hoover’s words, “reliably reported to be a `master spy’ for the Soviet government while employed by the United States government in Washington, D.C.”
And then what happened?
Evans wrote: “After this jolting revelation, however, the next paragraph is blacked out entirely. The obvious question arises: If the Hoover comment that Wahl was `reliably reported’ to be a Soviet `master spy’ is left in the records, what must be in the part that’s missing?”
Chances are good that whatever that censored paragraph says, it does not harm our national security in 2017. Chances are also good that this additional bit of “ancient data” further chips away at the Establishment narrative, which continues to belittle Communist infiltration directed by the Kremlin as a “Red Scare.”