Enough to make you ill

June 26, 2011

In News

by Charles Glass

June 19, 2011

Obama: Transparently Opaque

Barack Obama

What’s going on with Barack “Open Government” Obama? His Justice Department has prosecuted more people for exposing government secrets than all the presidents from George “I cannot tell a lie” Washington to George “I cannot tell the truth” Bush combined. Compared to his predecessors’ three prosecutions in more than two centuries, Obama has added five in less than two-and-a-half years. Can it be that our “hopey-changey” president has more to hide?

The president’s latest attempt to put a civil servant behind bars for speaking to a journalist is a weak case at best. Stephen J. Kim worked for the Defense and State Departments on North Korean issues. After someone introduced him to Fox News reporter James Rosen, Kim let slip a CIA analysis of North Korea’s likely reaction to a United Nations resolution condemning its nuclear weapons and missile tests. The CIA correctly concluded that North Korea would tell the UN to go to hell and then conduct more tests. Was there anything controversial or life-threatening in leaking a rare assessment in which the CIA could take pride? The North Korea assessment contrasts with the CIA’s failure to predict 1956’s Hungarian revolution, 1989’s fall of communism in Eastern Europe, and 2003’s Iraqi popular reaction to the American invasion. Hey, they’re bound to get it right once in a while.

“Does no one care that this is the most closed-up American government since, well, since ever?”

The leak’s triviality did not stop Obama’s bloodhounds from tracking down Mr. Kim and seeking to send him away for fifteen years under the Espionage Act of 1917. Kim, who immigrated to the US from South Korea when he was eight, is now awaiting trial for allegedly betraying a country he clearly loves. Not even the failure of the Obama Justice Department’s most recent case, against Thomas A. Drake of the National Security Agency, has reduced its enthusiasm for going after Mr. Kim and others who expose what the government wants to keep hidden. Drake’s alleged crime was to share with Siobhan Gorman, a Baltimore Sun reporter now at The Wall Street Journal, classified information about NSA surveillance. Prosecutors sought a thirty-five-year sentence but eventually Drake pled down to a misdemeanor. Meanwhile, Bradley Manning still faces a court-martial on charges of passing documents to WikiLeaks.

Obama’s people appear to be looking for hard men and women to plug the leaks. Step forward, Lisa O. Monaco, recent Obama Justice appointee. At her Senate confirmation hearing, Ms. Monaco said that “it would be my priority to continue the aggressive pursuit of these investigations.” She appeared pleased with the administration’s record of nearly “twice as many prosecutions” than in the rest of American history. Bet on her quick confirmation, after which she’ll be watching us all to make sure no one tells anyone else anything.

Does no one care that this is the most closed-up American government since, well, since ever? You’d think that those who profess to support both governmental transparency and journalists’ right to publish classified data would raise hell, at least until the government acknowledged the difference between spying for Israel and exposing government malfeasance to the electorate. Under this administration, you would be wrong.

Step forward, America’s leading guardians of free speech and open government. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Project on Government Oversight, George Washington University’s National Security Archive,, and OMB Watch banded together in March to batter down 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue’s doors and highlight this very issue. And they got in. Did they hand the president a petition demanding protection for the kind of whistleblowers Obama promised to support during his candidacy? Well, no.

These august institutions whose raison d’être is public access to government’s inner workings penetrated Obama’s sanctum sanctorum last March to tell him—wait for it—to keep up the good work. There was no demand that he rethink his prosecutions of Manning, Drake, Kim, or anyone else. There was no plea for him to keep his campaign promise to open the White House visitor logs. There was not even a request for him to end the arrests, of which there are more than 2,600 to date, of anti-war protestors.

The liberal guardians of our right to know were cleverer than that. Anyone can complain about secret government and the state hiding its crimes from public scrutiny. They outsmarted their critics by marching boldly into Obama’s lair, past his armed henchmen, and confronting a president whose record on governmental transparency would be the envy of the old Kremlin to hand him their “transparency award.” The best part is that the public and press were not permitted to witness the ceremony. How is that for open government?

As with giving the Nobel Peace Prize to a president waging two wars simultaneously, awarding the “transparency” prize to history’s most opaque president is, in the words of its sponsors, “aspirational.” They theoretically aspired, as if awarding the Order of Decency to Pablo Escobar, to influence the recipient to change his ways. Why not a banquet to honor former Congressman Weiner with a “World’s Greatest New Husband” award? Or a bequest for “Respect for Human Life” to Ayman al-Zawahiri?

Let’s give a Nobel for medicine to Obama in the hope he finds a cure for cancer. And an Oscar for Best Actor to inspire him to star in a film as a truthful president. Here’s an aspiration: why not a Darwin Award for…you know what they’re for.

What the hell is wrong with these five groups or, for that matter, the Nobel Committee? Obama is determinedly pursuing two wars and dozens of whistleblowers. Organizations that should be defending the peace and the electorate’s right to know are instead rewarding him for violating principles they exist to promote. Obama can conceal torture and death squads, and he can pretend he is obeying the Constitution and the War Powers Act when he decides on his own to commit American forces in Libya. But do we really expect groups such as the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to indulge a politician who has convened grand juries to force journalists to reveal their sources?

In an open letter published in the Guardian on June 14, Daniel Ellsberg, former Justice and State Department officials, and many others urged the donors to rescind Obama’s transparency award. You can sign their petition HERE.