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Access denied
A Register-Guard Editorial
Published: Monday, July 23, 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."