Obama’s Opaque Sense Of Transparency: AP Report Documents Obama Administration’s Record Secrecy and Denial Of Access To Documents

President_Barack_ObamaUnknownRemember that politician around 8 years ago who promised the most transparent Administration ever? Well, long ago, President Obama distinguished himself by withholding documents, pictures, and documents from the public and Congress. This includes the withholding of photos for the simple reason that they will embarrass the government or be used by critics like the pictures of Osama Bin Laden. (In the case of Bin Laden, it appears that the account glamorized in movies like Zero Dark Thirty may not be true and that U.S. forces allegedly riddled the body of Bin Laden with countless bullets, according to a new report). However, the Administration has gone well beyond the simply embarrassing. It has defied Congress in refusing to turn over documents to oversight committees, prompting a vote to demand that Attorney General Eric Holder be prosecuted for obstruction. (The Administration then prevented prosecutors from acting on the charge). A new analysis by the Associated Press shows what is already well known in Washington, President Obama has created the least transparent presidency in decades. The AP found that the Obama administration more often than ever censored government files or outright denied access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.

Across the categories of information and 99 agencies, last year was the worst on record for the government. In that year, the Obama Administration cited undefined national security reasons for withholding information roughly 8,500 times — a 57 percent increase over a year earlier and more than double Obama’s first year when the rationale was used some 3,658 times. It is not just the Defense Department and the CIA which covered most of the claims, but also the Agriculture Department’s Farm Service Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency did twice and the National Park Service which also claimed national security exemptions.

The use of the oft-abused “deliberative process” exception was used by the Obama Administration a record 81,752 times. The government censored materials overall in 244,675 cases or 36 percent of all requests. For an additional 196,034 requests, the government simply said no information was available or the request was improper or required payment for production.

The weird thing White House spokesman Eric Schultz insisted that the damning report showed “that agencies are responding to the president’s call for greater transparency.” That seems perfectly Orwellian where the denial of records shows a greater openness.

Even Democrats in Congress has complained about the treatment of FOIA requests as well as the refusal to turn over material to oversight committee. Recently, even the most deferential member to the Intelligence Community, Dianne Feinstein, complained of obstruction and spying by CIA as her staff tried to secure documents for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Reporters are also complaining about a wholesale blocking of media requests — part of the dismal record on press freedoms that has resulted in the United States ranking 64th in the world. That was a drop of 13 spots under Obama. For a recent column, click here.

The hostility of the Obama Administration to inquiries from the public, the press, or Congress is obviously part of a broader attack on civil liberties. From surveillance to kill lists to torture, the Administration has held tightly to information that could be used by critics. Indeed, the Administration has protected officials who destroyed evidence of torture under the Bush Administration at the CIA.

If the recent report on the Bin Laden pictures is true, it offers a disturbing glimpse of the mindset in the Administration. Obama barred the release of the pictures while his Administration played up his role in approving the killing of Bin Laden. The actions of the President has been heralded by Democrats even though there was clearly no intent to capture Bin Laden. It was an assassination carried out in violation of international law after entering the territory of an ally without permission. The legality of operation led many to ask what the U.S. would do if Mexico took out a figure in San Diego or New York. However, the Administration maintained the story that Bin Laden was shot a couple of times but that his body was treated with respect and given a proper burial at sea. If the U.S. forces riddled his body with bullets, it would constitute the abuse of a corpse and violate long-standing military principles. Of course, the truth is held to deduce when the Administration is holding the evidence that would prove its own misconduct.

The same can be said with regard to the withholding got the “Fast and Furious” documents and other scandals. Those are areas where Congress has a legitimate right to investigate the moronic actions of federal officials that led to at least one death of a federal agent — and included later false or misleading statements.

100 thoughts on “Obama’s Opaque Sense Of Transparency: AP Report Documents Obama Administration’s Record Secrecy and Denial Of Access To Documents”

  1. Gary T: I would agree with Ross, except that thee isn’t enough regulation of industry or the financial rackets.

    Chemical plants, because they contain lethal materials and highly explosive substances are vulnerable targets for terrorists. Yet the industry opposes laws that require them to increase security, just as the the airline industry did before 911. Even without the threat of terrorism, the safety standards for this industry are far too lax considering the dangers they pose to the public.

    It makes perfect sense for people living near chemical plants and rail lines used to transport chemicals to band toggether and demand tighter safety restrictions; they used to call that democracy, but the rightwing brain-cleansing machine has rebranded it.

    If you live ina mining community and members of your family and many of your neighbors work in coal mines, you should be very concerned about worker safety. If laws requiring workplace safety are socialism, well, at least your loved ones will stand a better chance of coming home at night.

    Rand Paul says there shouldn’t be any mine safety rules; if you don’t like the safety standards where you work, just move somewhere where you do.

    Gary, you seem like you’d be the first person to start screaming if someone you loved were injured because a truck had a faulty brake system. Because you’ve bought into the rightwing propaganda, you’ve been conditioned to believe in this notional libertariansim. To me, you’ve grown soft and spoiled from living in the security made safer by the nominal socialism of American society.

    I don’t want melamine in my pet’s food or lead paint on my children’s toys or mercury and arsenic in my drinking water. The few pennies we pay to ensure product safety and environmental regulation is an economic bargain.

    When government is operating properly, it’s a better bargain, pensions included, than private industry, hands down.

  2. Gary T:

    The premise of American free market is “fair competition” so the participants play by the rules instead of cheating. That requires a written rulebook and a fair impartial referee to enforce the rules.

    Fair competition rewards hard work, creativity, innovation and letting consumers have choices. There is many times over-regulation and mission-creep but a free market system requires some regulation. Monopolies and cartels are the opposite of free market competition.

    Labels are never completely accurate or fair. We have “socialist” police protection, “socialist” fire/EMS protection (in most localities), “socialist” national defense and “socialist” food inspection that most Americans love but don’t pay private companies to do.

  3. Skip: This is what I was talking about elsewhere. We the People is government. If we had no apparatus, as you call it, we’d need to invent it.

    It’s simply not true that govt regulation causes higher prices. You might pay more for a product when regulation requires it to be produced safely, but we save in health care and other costs.

    The tar sands are not going to reduce our dependance on Middle Eastern oil one iota. The tar sands are not going to reduce the cost of oil one penny; in fact, it’ll be the most expensive source of oil there is, so look for the price of oil to increase once it hits the market. The tar sands are not going to produce very many permanent jobs, so there will be no long term benefit to the tar sands for society.

    Meanwhile, the damage to the environment is astronomical. There is no 100% certain mode of transporting oil safely currently in use. It’s impossible to clean up oil spills effectively; There’s still oil from the Exxon Valdez coating the beaches of Alaska. The tar sands, because of their abrasive nature and the corrosive quality of the chemicals used to facilitate their transport, practically ensure a rupture in the pipeline, as happened in Michigan. If there’s a leak over the Ogallala aquifer will poison the drinking water for everyone living in the Plains states 50 to 75 years from now.

    1. “You” might pay more for a product when regulation is imposed, but “We” save in health care and other costs.

      Congratulations. The very essence of socialistic thinking.

  4. Re: hskiprob

    Nice points. We should also remember that the American Revolution happened in the first place because 18th Century Britain was violating their own “British” law, Magna Carta and their own Writ of Habeas Corpus.

    Essentially the official “rulebook” advertised to British citizens and American colonists to comply with was being reneged on by the government. Citizens following the rules were punished.

    As to your specific points, Alexander Hamilton was crystal clear on the role of judges and the rule of law: constitutionality would always supersede tradition, no matter how old the tradition. A good example of this is the Writ of Habeas Corpus – it was only designed for short temporary periods of mass chaos and was never intended for longterm use. Maybe suspending habeas corpus in October 2001 would have been legitimate but in 2002 there was no major chaos or anarchy in any American city. There may have been limited exceptions like screening mail, etc. but it should have been restored in 2002. Using “tradition” instead of “constitutionality” is how these slippery slopes are created.

    It seems to me real intelligence agencies should study the most intelligent Americans in history like James Madison and Ben Franklin. These 18th Century intelligence folks studied over 2000 years of world history on why governments fail and created the American blueprint to avoid those blunders.

  5. Part of the issue that’s not debated much is the distinction between “Political” issues vs. “Legal/Constitutional” issues. Using the metaphor of a football field, political issues are legally required to operate “in-bounds” of the U.S. Constitution’s boundaries (as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court) under the Supremacy Clause. Contrary to popular opinion, Congress and state legislatures can pass illegal laws that are unconstitutional.

    For example: If 90% of voters voted to repeal women’s rights or require all Americans to attend church on Mondays – that “political” vote is blatantly illegal (out of bounds) constitutionally and that ilegal vote would be overturned by the courts – even if the vast majority of voters wanted it. If there were such a super-majority vote of “political” will, the U.S. Constitution could be amended as long as it didn’t violate the Ninth Amendment. Generally speaking the U.S. Constitutions is designed to “expand” citizen rights, not “deny or disparage” rights already existing – unless exercising one’s rights trespasses on another citizen’s rights or freedoms.

    That is what has been so disappointing about judges and justices after 9/11 in my view: instead of enforcing the letter & spirit of the U.S. Constitution against the other co-equal branches, they essentially became a subordinate branch of government even though the Bill of Rights and Habeas Corpus were never amended by the American voters.

    1. Ross, well stated. It is interesting that the Judiciary has historically often been a rubber stamp for both the Legislature and the Admin., obviously serving the body politic and the oligarchy that controls it. And as you observed 9/11 just served as a catalyst for continued usurpation of rights and abrogations of the Constitution. Obviously, it is obviously much easier to just ignore the Constitution than to go through the proper methods of ratifying it. If you look back though, it appears to me that it has been a slow and steady encroachment on individual liberties over our entire history.

      One of the first that I am aware of was the prohibition against Privateering, the use of privately owned vessels/ships to stop pirating or attacks by foreign Navies. Privateering was essential to winning the American Revolution, but once the Central Government was formed, it all of a sudden became a bad idea. Hmmm. I can only assume that the military industrial complex was hard at work to place themselves in a non-competitive foothold on security. Hmmm. only government can provide real security?

      The same with private militias being finally forced out of existence in the late 1800s after they essentially started and helped win the American revolution. It never fails to amaze me, how and why the body politic operates.

  6. Jill: I said…

    “as an exercise in critical thinking I would want to know if there has been an increase in the number of requests for information and how much of an increase there’s been. I would want to know the number of requests the Bush administration simply ignored vs the number times the Obama administration has failed to respond to a request.”

    That’s precisely in keeping with how I described it. Any call for action on your part?

    You said:

    ” We must act together with every person who would like to restore the rule of law. We need peaceful, mass action. We are facing down an entrenched, armed to the teeth, financed to the teeth, propagandistic, no expense spared group of people who really do want absolute power.”

    You want masses of people to buy in, I’m suggesting they need convincing.

    I’m absolutely critical of this administration for a lot of things, but I’m not into buying the hype without asking questions. I say again, your no better than a media hack confronted with a message that runs counter to your agenda.

    BTW, and this goes for Skip as well, but I marched in protest here in Chicago against the tar sands pipeline, and I’m committed to do it again. When have either of ever taken to the streets to protest anything?

    Also, skip, people get fired for such things as posting a comment on facebook, or wearing a Packers shirt to work. You better believe jobs are on the line. That would be in keeping with your system of free enterprise, would it not?

    1. RTC – Free enterprise has always existed and is a requirement. It is the various government intervention that causes higher prices, lower wages and less employment. The USSR was the best example that finally collapsed under the weight of it’s own lack of production and bureaucracy. As I say to the anti-capitalists; sell off everything you own that was made by private enterprise and see what you are left with. We owe our lives to capitalism, yet there are those in government that continue to criticize it for their own welfare. Capitalism is not perfect, so yes we should watch its every move, but not via the government apparatus, it needs we the people. Government always ends up in the pockets of big business and the oligarchy that owns and controls it.

      I’m not even that opposed to those who are protesting the Tar Sand pipeline but north America is trying to become independent from Middle East Oil and this pipeline would help do this? Figures you would protect against that instead of the Central Bank that is really causing such great harm to our world. Pipelines are not perfect but the more we tax the operators and owners the less resources there are to care for the pipeline. We surely have the technology to care for it and make sure spills and accidents don’t happen. Perhap’s you would prefer hot fusion nuclear? I know that’s a cheap shot.

      A return to high levels of capitalism can save our world but we must teach each generation its weaknesses and various remedies. Thinking that government is part of the picture ignores 6,000 years of history. Just go down the list of governments that have raped and pillages the people of our world. Each society then believe that they must have a strong central government to fight against the other governments. Does the fallacious domino theory, cold war, war against terrorism, war on drugs come to mine.

      I don’t know how to get there but if we do not change our course it is really going to get even uglier. Just do the math, our current course cannot be maintained or we will end up like the USSR.

  7. Voting is probably the least fruitful political action people can take because among other things we have been mislead to believe that our only choices are twitterly dee and twitterly dumb. A little play on words, as I think Twitter is a bad as our two party system.

    I was watching the TV show, Brain Game last night, and low and behold they did a piece on political candidates and how most candidates are elected because of how honest and confident they look, instead of the policies they support. “I voted for Barack Obama because he’s a black man.”

    And people truly believe that voting really works???? Winston Churchill said, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

    Wake up people – you’re supposed to be some of the best and brightest.

    The oligarchs control the political machine from the TOP down. They use fear as RTC noted, suppression of information, retaliation, yellow journalism, payoffs, bureaucratic jobs, loans, campaign contributions, advertising dollars by the $billions, government contracts, etc. Thinking that you or we can beat them at the game they control is delusional.

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