Thursday, June 14, 2012

District Court Again Accepts State Secrecy Claims; But Transparency Needed More than Ever

The same US District Court judge who ruled for the State Department in the ACCG-IAPN-PNG FOIA case has again ruled for the government on the remaining issues on remand from the D.C. Circuit.

Just because the US District Court gave the State Department another pass does not mean that the State Department is acting in accordance with President Obama's promise to make his Administration the most transparent ever.  To the contrary, the veil of secrecy placed over State Department decisions to impose import restrictions on cultural goods would seem to be entirely inconsistent with that pledge. 

The State Department needs to be far more transparent about its decision making processes, which after all have a real impact on the ability of American collectors, businesses and museums to import cultural goods.

Archaeologists should also support greater transparency.  The archaeological lobby harps on the need for more transparency about private transactions involving the sale or transfer of cultural goods, but has been supportive of government secrecy concerning how import decisions are made.  Why?  Could it be that it fears that any such transparency will only confirm that such decisions are actually the products of bias/and or prejudgement and/or ex parte contacts between State Department staff and members of the archaeological lobby?  The particular redacted document at issue in the remand (an email communication between an archaeologist associated with the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute and a State Department employee about including coins in the MOU that predated a Cypriot request for import restrictions on coins) certainly suggests as much.

Addendum 6/15/12): Some in the archaeological blogosphere have now claimed that using the FOIA process to seek the email mentioned above is somehow "absurd," "shameful," "disturbing" and "disgusting."  Here is my response to archaeo-blogger Paul Barford, which he apparently refuses to publish:

Well, perhaps you should give your readers the whole context of why ACCG was seeking the Parks email, and let them decide if seeking some transparency as to how the import restrictions decision was made is as disgusting or disturbing as you claim:
Either State was using Parks (the now deceased archaeologist in question)  as a supposedly neutral expert (when she was not) or conferring with her about CAARI's effort to include coins in the Cypriot MOU. Because we don't have the entire document, we don't know which it was, but since Cyprus had not yet asked for restrictions on coins when the email exchange occurred, it presumably would be the latter.

1 comment:

Wayne G. Sayles said...

If the shoe were on the other foot and the ACCG were "coordinating" a coin exemption with some Washington bureaucrat, what would the response then be from the archaeological community? It's sad that educated people who are supposedly objective and peer-review oriented can be so institutionally myopic.