Trevor Timm looks at the latest attempts by the Obama administration to block transparency by barring all members of the 17 intelligence agencies from any ‘unauthorized’ contact with the press and thinks that it might backfire on them.
Employees can now lose their jobs, security clearances and, essentially, their careers for “unauthorized” contact – even routine calls or Mayflower Hotel drinks about unclassified topics that couldn’t possibly pose a threat to national security. That will inevitably leave journalists in the cold when trying to explain complex government policies, top-secret or not, especially since the official explanations so often leave a lot to be desired.
If you’re an intelligence official, attempting to explain public policy to a journalist may now be tantamount to a crime. As Aftergood declared, “Henceforward, the only news about intelligence is to be authorized news.” Instead of allowing the press to report the facts, the government is trying to build something resembling a propaganda machine.
Want an example of what our front-page, “authorized”-only news might look like from now on? Check out Just Security’s excellent paragraph-by-paragraph annotation of the New York Times report this week on recent drone strikes in Yemen, where dozens of people have been killed. All we have are seemingly “authorized” but anonymous sources spouting the government’s party line, with absolutely no way to back up their claims.
As Timm says, the Obama administration stonewalls even requests for unclassified information and when forced to release them by the courts, thumbs its nose at the court by releasing them so heavily redacted as to render them useless, using the b(5) provision of the Freedom of Information Act that essentially allows them to withhold information just because they feel like doing so. Here is a telling example of the contempt Obama has for transparency and accountability when its was ordered to release ten unclassified opinions authored by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2013.
Is it any wonder that even the mainstream journalists burst out laughing when the administrations spokespersons insist that this is the Most Transparent Administration Ever.