Secret Agreements

by Roger Alford

I rarely agree with Public Citizen, but I think they have a point when they argue that the United States should reveal the details of its multi-billion dollar settlement agreement with the European Union over compensation for failing to comply with the WTO Appellate Body US-Gambling decision. (Hat tip: IELP). This from the Public Citizen website:

The Bush administration is illegally withholding the details of its offer accepted by the European Union to bind more sectors of the U.S. economy to World Trade Organization (WTO) jurisdiction as part of a settlement relating to a WTO ruling against the U.S. ban on Internet gambling, Public Citizen contended today in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia….

Although it has announced that deals have been reached with the European Union and other countries, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has refused to release the details of its compensation agreements. In December, the USTR provided a hint at the scope of the deals by revealing that they involved new U.S. WTO commitments for “warehousing services, technical testing services, research and development services and postal services relating to outbound international letters.”… The USTR claims the settlement is classified and cannot be released as a matter of national security.

If you read the Public Citizen complaint, the United States position for why it is keeping the agreement a secret is as follows:

By letter dated March 25, 2008, signed by Mark Linscott, Chair, Freedom of Information Appeals Committee, USTR rejected Brayton’s administrative appeal. Mr. Linscott explained that the agency’s appeals committee had “determined that the document was properly withheld in full pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(1)” because it was properly classified pursuant to paragraph 1.4(b) of Executive Order 12958, as amended by Executive Order 13292. That paragraph provides that “foreign government information” must be treated as “classified national security information.” As Linscott’s letter explained: “Executive Order 13292 defines ‘foreign government information’ as information provided to, or received from, a foreign government or international organization under an agreement that it will be held in confidence.” The letter stated that the document Brayton requested “contains an agreement between the United States and the European Union entered into as part of a multinational process under the purview of the World Trade Organization (WTO).” According to USTR, “[t]he WTO rules governing this process require that such documents must be held in confidence. Therefore, the document is ‘foreign government information’ properly classified under Executive Order 12958, as amended by Executive Order 13292.”

I don’t think so. Isn’t an agreement between two countries the kind of document that has to be disclosed? This settlement agreement sounds to me like it is just too close to a “secret treaty” for comfort.

2 Responses

  1. The U.S. has many agreements with other countries which it does not release. This fact is public knowledge, but the agreements are not. For example, the U.S. nuclear agreement with India currently being debated. Another example, in Fall 2001 the U.S. announced it had signed an agreement with Uzbekistan authorizing only ‘search and rescue’ missions to be launched from that nation, but declined to release the actual agreement. Public sources suggest that we have done much more from that nation than ordinary SAR. Or how about the enormous sums of money we likely paid other nations via undisclosed agreements in order to enhance their ‘willingness’ to become members of the coalition of the willing?

  2. To clarify: I am not advocating secret deals, especially for non-military issues. It is difficult to see how a gambling settlement could involve national security. (‘Well, you see organized crime is influential in both gambling and drug trafficking, and we have a War on Drugs, so this is a national security issue’–just as sneezing at home is interstate commerce.)

    It seems the monarchists in the Administration are trying to hide the fact they have betrayed even the New Sovereigntists. And the newly-affected industries might like to know what rules pertain to them, as well.

    I am glad that Public Citizen took it on, though aren’t internationalists supposed to like secret ‘world-government’ deals? Why is only the left is objecting (this link from the hospitality industry discusses Democratic Congressmen DeFazio and Frank’s views)? Perhaps the protectionist U.S. gambling industry lost its conservative backers after Jack Abramoff got clipped.

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