White House 'Bonesman' leads nation into the
By Alexandra Robbins
"My senior year (at Yale University) I joined
Skull and Bones, a secret society," President Bush wrote in his
autobiography, "so secret, I can't say anything more."
He doesn't have to. He's practically turning
the government into a secret society - an old-boy, throwback
establishment that even holds its secret spy-court proceedings in an
elaborately locked, windowless room that sounds similar to the
Bones' elaborately locked, practically windowless "tomb," or campus
Bush, a loyal and particularly active member of
Skull and Bones, a mysterious, historically misogynist Yale-based
secret society, seems to have done almost all he can to promote a
level of secrecy in government not seen since the Nixon
- Last month, Bush-appointed Assistant Attorney General Robert
McCallum, a member of Bush's 1968 Skull and Bones class, filed
pleadings in U.S. District Court seeking to extend executive
privilege to any government official in pardon cases; the move
makes information on presidential pardons more secret than it has
- After 9/11, without initially telling Congress, Bush assembled
a shadow government assigned to secret bunkers somewhere on the
East Coast. He also tried to cut off some members of Congress from
classified information about the anti-terrorist campaign.
- The USA Patriot Act Bush eagerly signed lets the FBI - with
permission from a secret Washington "spy court" - view some
customer records; store owners cannot reveal the review
- In October 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft released a
memo encouraging federal agencies to withhold as much information
as possible from the public.
- A month later, just before documents from the Reagan-Bush
administration were to be released, Bush signed an executive order
severely hindering public access to former presidents' records.
- Bush also signed legislation that jails or fines journalists
who publish sensitive leaks, essentially reviving the Official
Secrecy Act that President Clinton vetoed.
Bush has a "fetish for secrecy," Vanderbilt
University professor emeritus Hugh Davis Graham, now deceased, told
the National Journal earlier this year.
Granted, pressing issues of national security
merit a level of secrecy. But security and secrecy are not always
necessary companions, and some of these examples suggest secrecy for
secrecy's sake, such as the pardons and the Reagan documents. Also,
a government that operates in secret prevents its constituents from
holding it accountable and so may be more prone to arbitrariness and
ill-considered conduct. This administration may even be doing itself
a disservice with its excess secrecy, which can cause people to
conjure up much more malicious and elitist scenarios than may
That is what has happened with Skull and Bones,
which operates a powerful alumni network but, despite the lore, does
not run a secret world government, collaborate with Nazis or require
initiates to lie naked in a coffin.
Bonesmen have long helped Bush; he received a
fair chunk of his early business financing from them and turned to
them for help when he needed a job, investors and campaign
assistance. Even his baseball-team purchase involved at least one
Bonesman. As president, Bush has appointed fellow Bonesmen to
high-level positions, such as Edward McNally, the general counsel of
the Office on Homeland Security and senior associate counsel on
national security. Yet, although one of his first social gatherings
at the White House was a Skull and Bones reunion, Bush feigned
ignorance when asked recently about Bones: "The thing is so secret
that I'm not even sure it still exists," he replied.
Is it a coincidence that the federal government
suddenly prioritizes secrecy when a Skull and Bones president is in
power? Maybe. But there's no question that the Bush administration
increasingly resembles the Bones' dark, locked tomb.
Alexandra Robbins is the author of
Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the
Hidden Paths of Power.