NEW YORK — Somewhere in the shadows of federal bureaucracy, there was an issue about the drinking habits of Augusto Pinochet.
The National Security Archive, an advocate for open government, had for years tried to gain access to intelligence files about the Chilean dictator, his human rights abuses and his ties to the United States. In 2003, the Defense Intelligence Agency declassified documents that included a biographical sketch of Pinochet assembled in 1975, two years after he seized power. Parts of the sketch had been blacked out, “redacted,” for national security. The archive had no trouble discovering that the missing information included Pinochet’s liking for scotch and pisco sours.
“The sketch been published in full by the government in 1999,” notes Tom Blanton, director of the archive. But, he says, “all it takes to change that is a single objection.”
The censoring of government reports isn’t new, but since Robert Mueller turned in his report last month on alleged ties between Russian officials and Donald Trump presidential campaign, “redacted” has joined “collusion” and “obstruction” as a national buzzword. Attorney General William Barr’s announcement that he would release a “redacted” version of Mueller’s findings, expected Thursday, will likely set off a long debate over what’s behind the darkened blotches.