Top Secret Rhetoric

In his classic essay, George Orwell touches on language that could qualify as “bureaucratic,” but he doesn’t consider (and probably couldn’t have considered, in the space of one essay) the sheer weight, mass, and bewildering intricacy of a bureaucratic document.

If you’ve a mind to do so, browse through President Bush’s executive order 13292, which covers how information gets to be classified top secret, secret, or confidential:

Bush Top Secret

Although individual words, phrases, sentences, and sections are clear, the cumulative rhetorical effect of the document is to render the reader confused at best and more likely stunned, as if by a powerful venom.

Bush’s order replaces order # 12958, in case anyone should ask.

One sentence in the new order struck me as Kafkaesque:

“If it is not clear which agency has classification responsibility for this information, it shall be sent to the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office.”

According to a story produced by National Public Radio in 2005, 15 million documents were classified secret/top secret in 2005, at the cost of 7 billion dollars. So at least we may posit concrete effects of such an executive order. What the broader effects are, who knows?

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