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White House Reassures Everyone This Will Still Be The Most Transparent Administration Ever™

The White House does not want any transparency advocates, journalists or concerned citizens to think a White House office’s decision to delete its Freedom of Information Act regulations signals any particular shift by the administration. President Barack Obama’s administration will still be the “most transparent administration in history.”

USA Today reported on March 16 that the White House officially adopted a policy that FOIA does not apply to the Office of Administration, which handles email archiving and has previously released records, including visitor logs. The policy was embraced by President George W. Bush in 2007 after the administration destroyed 22 million emails. But, since 1977, when the office was established under President Jimmy Carter, it has been subject to records requests.

The rule change garnered more attention than normal because it happened right at the beginning of Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of freedom of information and government openness. White House Press Secretary Joshua Earnest claimed to have no involvement in the “timing of the announcement.” Like a game of craps, people could still submit requests for records and see what happens. He also asserted the rule change would not impact the White House’s “compliance” with the Freedom of Information Act nor did it mean the administration would no longer be the Most Transparent Administration Ever™.

The Obama administration has adopted a policy, where federal agencies advise local law enforcement agencies to hide Stingray surveillance from individuals submitting public records requests. Stingrays are tools that mimic cell towers and can force devices to connect with them so law enforcement can obtain location data. Many times law enforcement use this tool without a warrant. Yet, for private companies like Harris and the police departments, who have grown reliant on the technology, the federal government plays a secrecy shell game.

The US Marshal’s Service seized records from an office in Sarasota, Florida, so they would no longer be subject to disclosure under the state’s open records law. Prosecutors are dropping cases against criminals to avoid the risk of disclosure in public courtrooms.

But the Obama administration will continue to be the Most Transparent Administration Ever™ when it comes to hiding surveillance that implicates the privacy rights of tens of thousands of Americans.

The government has fought efforts to have photos and videos showing torture and abuse of detainees in the War on Terrorism. Attorneys successfully argued that videos of Mohammed al Qahtani’s detention at Guantanamo Bay, including some of the abuse he has endured, would fuel terrorism propaganda if made public because it is known worldwide Qahtani was tortured.

Additionally, government attorneys have stymied the release of over two thousand photos of detainee abuse in Iraq, which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) requested under the Freedom of Information Act over a decade ago. They have stalled the release of videos showing former prisoner Abu Wa’el Dhiab being brutally force-fed at Guantanamo, arguing perversely that disclosing evidence of torture would reveal the government cannot protect the privacy of detainees, who suffer abuse in US custody, and abide by the Geneva Conventions.

In the words of President Obama, none of these records will benefit “our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals.” The public has seen enough evidence of torture and abuse by the US government. It does not need to be bothered with anymore examples and The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ has made that transparently clear.

Obama pledged transparency on drones and National Security Agency surveillance, but the administration refuses to release secret legal opinions or secret legal interpretations of its claimed power to spy and kill. It fights the release of basic information about criteria for selecting targets—unless a judge orders disclosure. And, in those rare instances, the Obama administration takes credit for releasing documents, even though they would never have released the documents if groups like the ACLU or Electronic Frontier Foundation had not sued.

Fortunately, if Earnest’s comments are any indication, The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ will continue this sanctimonious behavior so the public can continue to see just how committed the president is to transparency.

A former US Army prosecutor, Major Erik J. Burris, who oversaw sexual assault cases, was found guilty of rape, forcible sodomy and assault in January. The Associated Press attempted to find out more details related to his court martial. Burris had multiple victims. However, the Army would only provide a five-sentence statement on the case.

“Court documents such as legal motions and trial transcripts are supposed to be public under the Freedom of Information Act but are routinely not provided by the military until months, even years, after the case is resolved,” the AP noted.

Not to worry. The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ will be most transparent in letting the Pentagon continue to take care of their own rapists (or war criminals) in secret.

The AP reported that the administration has set a record for censorship of files.

Over the past year:

19 veterans died and dozens were injured by delays in medical screenings at Veterans Affairs hospitals. It took fussing from Congress to convince the Veterans Affairs Department to stop denying Freedom of Information Act requests on which hospitals these deaths had taken place.

The NSA would not release the financial disclosure forms of former NSA director Keith Alexander. The agency claimed, if released, the forms would threaten national security. VICE News contributor Jason Leopold eventually pried them from the spy agency.

Leopold also requested documents from US Central Command on a “precision strike program” involving aid to the Yemeni military so it could launch “targeted killing” operations against terrorists. CENTCOM took a year to process his request and, to Leopold’s amazement, part of the 35-page response included 15 blank pages.

The Obama administration has been careful how agencies read or use the Senate intelligence committee’s report on CIA in order to avoid it from becoming too FOIA-able. Plus, an internal CIA review known as the “Panetta Review,” which confirms much of the Senate report, remains secret, despite lawsuits by people like Leopold.

When John Dyer submitted a request for records on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s role in the capture of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, a Mexican drug lord, he received a response from DEA that the agency had over thirteen thousand case files. The DEA would disclose them if Dyer paid $1,461,712 for the agency to search its files. As EFF notes, this is ridiculous and possibly the highest estimate by a government agency in FOIA history.

As press complain about not getting records from Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, the National Security Archive is still fighting the State Department for the release of transcripts of 700 telephone calls made by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger eight years after an appeal.

Too good to paraphrase this one. From the AP:

In government emails that AP obtained in reporting about who pays for Michelle Obama’s expensive dresses, the National Archives and Records Administration blacked out one sentence repeatedly, citing a part of the law intended to shield personal information such as Social Security numbers or home addresses.

The blacked-out sentence? The government slipped and let it through on one page of the redacted documents: “We live in constant fear of upsetting the WH (White House).”

This is not merely bureaucratic dysfunction with agencies incapable of complying with the Freedom of Information Act (although dysfunction seems to plague many government agencies). In each of these examples, agency officials make brazen decisions to be openly secretive.

A presidential administration, which pledged during its first days in office to create an “unprecedented level of openness in government,” has proven it is the The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ but not in ways the Obama administration would tout. They certainly have not achieved this title through accomplishments favored by any transparency advocate. Rather, the administration has perfected the art of faking openness while disingenuously engaging in transparent secrecy.

Photo is government work from the White House and in the public domain

CommunityThe Dissenter

White House Reassures Everyone This Will Still Be The Most Transparent Administration Ever™

The White House does not want any transparency advocates, journalists or concerned citizens to think a White House office’s decision to delete its Freedom of Information Act regulations signals any particular shift by the administration. President Barack Obama’s administration will still be the “most transparent administration in history.”

USA Today reported on March 16 that the White House officially adopted a policy that FOIA does not apply to the Office of Administration, which handles email archiving and has previously released records, including visitor logs. The policy was embraced by President George W. Bush in 2007 after the administration destroyed 22 million emails. But, since 1977, when the office was established under President Jimmy Carter, it has been subject to records requests.

The rule change garnered more attention than normal because it happened right at the beginning of Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of freedom of information and government openness. White House Press Secretary Joshua Earnest claimed to have no involvement in the “timing of the announcement.” Like a game of craps, people could still submit requests for records and see what happens. He also asserted the rule change would not impact the White House’s “compliance” with the Freedom of Information Act nor did it mean the administration would no longer be the Most Transparent Administration Ever™.

The Obama administration has adopted a policy, where federal agencies advise local law enforcement agencies to hide Stingray surveillance from individuals submitting public records requests. Stingrays are tools that mimic cell towers and can force devices to connect with them so law enforcement can obtain location data. Many times law enforcement use this tool without a warrant. Yet, for private companies like Harris and the police departments, who have grown reliant on the technology, the federal government plays a secrecy shell game.

The US Marshal’s Service seized records from an office in Sarasota, Florida, so they would no longer be subject to disclosure under the state’s open records law. Prosecutors are dropping cases against criminals to avoid the risk of disclosure in public courtrooms.

But the Obama administration will continue to be the Most Transparent Administration Ever™ when it comes to hiding surveillance that implicates the privacy rights of tens of thousands of Americans.

The government has fought efforts to have photos and videos showing torture and abuse of detainees in the War on Terrorism. Attorneys successfully argued that videos of Mohammed al Qahtani’s detention at Guantanamo Bay, including some of the abuse he has endured, would fuel terrorism propaganda if made public because it is known worldwide Qahtani was tortured.

Additionally, government attorneys have stymied the release of over two thousand photos of detainee abuse in Iraq, which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) requested under the Freedom of Information Act over a decade ago. They have stalled the release of videos showing former prisoner Abu Wa’el Dhiab being brutally force-fed at Guantanamo, arguing perversely that disclosing evidence of torture would reveal the government cannot protect the privacy of detainees, who suffer abuse in US custody, and abide by the Geneva Conventions.

In the words of President Obama, none of these records will benefit “our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals.” The public has seen enough evidence of torture and abuse by the US government. It does not need to be bothered with anymore examples and The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ has made that transparently clear.

Obama pledged transparency on drones and National Security Agency surveillance, but the administration refuses to release secret legal opinions or secret legal interpretations of its claimed power to spy and kill. It fights the release of basic information about criteria for selecting targets—unless a judge orders disclosure. And, in those rare instances, the Obama administration takes credit for releasing documents, even though they would never have released the documents if groups like the ACLU or Electronic Frontier Foundation had not sued.

Fortunately, if Earnest’s comments are any indication, The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ will continue this sanctimonious behavior so the public can continue to see just how committed the president is to transparency.

A former US Army prosecutor, Major Erik J. Burris, who oversaw sexual assault cases, was found guilty of rape, forcible sodomy and assault in January. The Associated Press attempted to find out more details related to his court martial. Burris had multiple victims. However, the Army would only provide a five-sentence statement on the case.

“Court documents such as legal motions and trial transcripts are supposed to be public under the Freedom of Information Act but are routinely not provided by the military until months, even years, after the case is resolved,” the AP noted.

Not to worry. The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ will be most transparent in letting the Pentagon continue to take care of their own rapists (or war criminals) in secret.

The AP reported that the administration has set a record for censorship of files.

Over the past year:

19 veterans died and dozens were injured by delays in medical screenings at Veterans Affairs hospitals. It took fussing from Congress to convince the Veterans Affairs Department to stop denying Freedom of Information Act requests on which hospitals these deaths had taken place.

The NSA would not release the financial disclosure forms of former NSA director Keith Alexander. The agency claimed, if released, the forms would threaten national security. VICE News contributor Jason Leopold eventually pried them from the spy agency.

Leopold also requested documents from US Central Command on a “precision strike program” involving aid to the Yemeni military so it could launch “targeted killing” operations against terrorists. CENTCOM took a year to process his request and, to Leopold’s amazement, part of the 35-page response included 15 blank pages.

The Obama administration has been careful how agencies read or use the Senate intelligence committee’s report on CIA in order to avoid it from becoming too FOIA-able. Plus, an internal CIA review known as the “Panetta Review,” which confirms much of the Senate report, remains secret, despite lawsuits by people like Leopold.

When John Dyer submitted a request for records on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s role in the capture of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, a Mexican drug lord, he received a response from DEA that the agency had over thirteen thousand case files. The DEA would disclose them if Dyer paid $1,461,712 for the agency to search its files. As EFF notes, this is ridiculous and possibly the highest estimate by a government agency in FOIA history.

As press complain about not getting records from Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, the National Security Archive is still fighting the State Department for the release of transcripts of 700 telephone calls made by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger eight years after an appeal.

Too good to paraphrase this one. From the AP:

In government emails that AP obtained in reporting about who pays for Michelle Obama’s expensive dresses, the National Archives and Records Administration blacked out one sentence repeatedly, citing a part of the law intended to shield personal information such as Social Security numbers or home addresses.

The blacked-out sentence? The government slipped and let it through on one page of the redacted documents: “We live in constant fear of upsetting the WH (White House).”

This is not merely bureaucratic dysfunction with agencies incapable of complying with the Freedom of Information Act (although dysfunction seems to plague many government agencies). In each of these examples, agency officials make brazen decisions to be openly secretive.

A presidential administration, which pledged during its first days in office to create an “unprecedented level of openness in government,” has proven it is the The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ but not in ways the Obama administration would tout. They certainly have not achieved this title through accomplishments favored by any transparency advocate. Rather, the administration has perfected the art of faking openness while disingenuously engaging in transparent secrecy.

Photo is government work from the White House and in the public domain

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."