What was supposed to be a “transparent” administration is moving from frosted to downright opaque at a startling rate.
More and more, it seems as if the administration of Barack Obama is getting things backward. The president and all his men (and women) seem to think that they should know a whole lot more about you than you know about them.
Just look at some of the stories that have broken in recent weeks.
There was the revelation that the Justice Department secretly gathered records for 20 Associated Press phones that were used by as many as 100 reporters. The Justice Department wanted to know who leaked information that embarrassed the administration last year by reporting that it had been working to thwart a terrorist attack at a time when officials said they had no specific knowledge of any plots.
Whether that disclosure represented a threat to national security is open to interpretation, but clearly the breadth of the surveillance goes beyond that of a focused investigation. It was more of a fishing expedition.
And there was the story that Justice Department seized phone records and emails sent to a private account of James Rosen, chief Washington correspondent for Fox News while investigating leaks that led to a 2009 story about U.N. sanctions and North Korea’s nuclear program. Again, the administration appeared to be overreaching, going so far as to suggest Rosen was a criminal co-conspirator, a line that no other administration has crossed while investigating leaks to a reporter.
Ironically, at the same time that the administration is aggressively pursuing information about how reporters do their jobs, some departments are taking extraordinary measures to keep the public from knowing what the administration is up to.
Chris Horner, senior fellow and attorney with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, has made a strong case showing that officials of the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency of special interest to the CEI, have been using borrowed or fictitious email accounts for official communications. The practice makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the press, policy specialists or members of the public to know what government officials are saying in what should be official communications available under Freedom of Information law.
Tapping Internet companies
And now, two more breaking stories that are too fresh for editorial analysis. Those are the reports that the NSA and FBI have been tapping nine Internet companies for years and that the government has been secretly collecting records of phone calls of millions of Verizon customers, and likely other phone companies.
There has always been conflict over what government information should be open to the public and what private information should be available to the government. There’s also an ongoing debate over which matters are legitimate issues of national security and which are just things that would embarrass the government if made public.
The problem for the administration is that President Obama ran on a promise of transparency. He didn’t run on a promise of being no better (and perhaps even worse) on matters of open government than some of the presidents who have come before him. The press and the public had every reason to expect better than they’re getting from this president and his administration.