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How a Trump loyalist is pressing Biden to loosen national security secrets

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29.09.2021

Upon taking office President Joe Biden and his Cabinet cleared out scores of government advisory panels containing Trump administration appointees.

But an obscure presidential advisory board still led by one of former President Donald Trump’s more controversial aides is pressing Biden to dramatically reduce government secrecy on everything from military space programs to historical records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The bipartisan Public Interest Declassification Board, whose members serve three-year terms, is now chaired by Ezra Cohen, a protege of disgraced Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn who held several top national security posts (and has also been dogged by one of the leading conspiracy theories trafficked by Trump supporters).

But so far Cohen, who Trump appointed to run the board in January, is getting plaudits from longtime advocates for government openness and from fellow board members who share his goals.

“I think he’s shown some good leadership capabilities,” said former Democratic Rep. John Tierney of Massachusetts, who was appointed to the panel by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last year. “He’s been very inclusive. I don’t see him bullying anything through. He has been very open and engaged and listening to other people's opinions, on the basis of consensus.”

In an interview, Cohen outlined his agenda for overhauling the government classification system that Democrats and Republicans alike contend shields too many secrets from the public and hampers other government officials and contractors who need them to counter potential adversaries or ensure accountability.

He singled out special access programs, or SAPs, which contain some of the most closely guarded national security secrets and which only very few officials are privy to.

“It is very hard for Congress and civilian leadership to conduct oversight of these programs,” said Cohen, who was appointed to the board in January just before he stepped down as acting undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security. “More work needs to be done. The board is committed to advocating for as much transparency as possible.”

The board’s members, some of whom are appointed by the president and others by congressional leaders from both parties, are also pressing Biden to open decades-old government archives.

On Monday, Cohen, a former CIA officer, penned a letter to the president on their behalf urging him to overrule intelligence agencies seeking to withhold portions of 12,000 records related to the Kennedy assassination that are supposed to be released next month.

“We understand that agencies are asking you to extend the postponement of public disclosure for parts of many records subject to the JFK Act,” Cohen wrote, adding that in order to “bolster the American people’s confidence and trust in their government, the board unanimously recommends that you limit any further postponements of public disclosures of the Kennedy assassination records to the absolute........

© Politico


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