Sign In | Create an Account | Welcome, . My Account | Logout | Subscribe | Submit News | Contact Us | Home RSS
 
 
 

An Empire of Secrets

Covert spying turns cheers of hope into catcalls against ‘big brother’

June 17, 2013
By CALVIN WOODWARD, Associated Press , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WASHINGTON - It's as if the United States has two governments, one open and one very much not. President Barack Obama leads both, trying not to butt heads with himself.

Since becoming president, Obama has churned out an impressive stream of directives flowing from his promise to deliver "the most transparent administration in history."

He established a center devoted to declassifying records and making them public.

Article Photos

AP Photo
In this May 15 photo, President Barack Obama attends the National Peace Officers Memorial Service on Capitol Hill in Washington.

He announced an open government initiative. Dizzying quantities of information poured into public databases. New ways were devised to show taxpayers how their money is spent. Allegiance was pledged to the rule of law.

Then there's the other government.

It prosecutes leakers like no administration before it. It exercises state-secrets privileges to quash court cases against it. It hides a vast array of directives and legal opinions underpinning government actions - not just intelligence and not all of it about national security.

Now it's known to conduct sweeping phone-records and Internet surveillance of ordinary people in programs kept on the lowdown until an employee of a National Security Agency contractor revealed them.

Dick Cheney said this would happen.

Known as the master manipulator of power behind the scenes as George W. Bush's vice president, Cheney predicted at the dawn of Obama's presidency that the relentless campaign criticism of shadowed government would not come to much.

"My guess is, once they get here and they're faced with the same problems we deal with every day, that they will appreciate some of the things we've put in place," he said. "They'll need all the authority they can muster."

The empire of secrets lives on.

Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, says the U.S. has both the most open government in the world and arguably the most closed. Daily it publishes an unmatched avalanche of information. But daily its national security secrets also grow by staggering amounts.

Early on, there were signs Obama would not upend the fundamental balance of this parallel universe despite his pledges to take the government in a new, open direction.

Glasnost on the Potomac would have to wait.

One sign: Obama's 2009 marching orders for classifying documents closely resembled those of his predecessors at least back to Ronald Reagan.

Also, a 2011 review of the Obama administration's handling of public records requests under the Freedom of Information Act noted the many positive words from the president and his people about striving for a culture of disclosure. This included an executive order on his first day in office. But the review came to this jarring conclusion when actions were measured against words: "Most indicators of openness have not even returned to the average for the Bush years, a period known for secrecy." The report was by OMB Watch, now called the Center for Effective Government.

The secret side of government has many pillars, some fashioned with a compliant Congress, others raised from within.

A look at some, and the weird politics swirling around them:

Which side are you on again?

In the suddenly unfolding debate over secrecy in government, it takes a spreadsheet to know who stands where. The normal partisan divide that cleaves almost everything else in Washington is no guide. Obama at times seems to be on both sides at once.

In one corner, there's Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, tag-teaming with Republican John Boehner of Ohio, the House speaker. Both are steaming over the actions of Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked the surveillance programs. "Treason," said Feinstein. "Traitor," said Boehner. National security hawks in both parties agree.

In the other corner, an unusual collection of liberals, civil libertarians and conservatives suspicious of government's reach is aligned against Big Brother. The American Civil Liberties Union, tea party favorites and dyed-in-the-wool progressives are these odd bedfellows.

Some other Democrats, too, are proving hostile to the administration on this. Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado have dogged the administration to back off what they see as an assault on civil liberties and challenged its claims that the telephone and email monitoring programs helped stop specific acts of terrorism.

Secret directives and privileges

These tools have been used just as vigorously as in the Bush years, watchdogs say, despite modest steps toward accountability.

The state-secrets privilege helps the government withhold sensitive national security records in court proceedings. But in its 2013 review of Obama's first term, the Center for Effective Government says both the Bush and Obama administrations used the privilege to dismiss entire cases against the government, not just protect specific records.

The government also operates with a range of regulations, legal opinions and policy directives that never see the light of day.

Targeted drone killings, the recently leaked phone and email surveillance programs, and a former Bush program of warrantless wiretapping came from these shadows.

Loose lips sink ships

The Obama administration has pursued an unprecedented number of investigations of those who leak government secrets and taken extraordinary steps in doing so. Among them are the secret seizure by the Justice Department of two months of phone records for more than 20 Associated Press telephone lines and the gathering of emails of Fox News journalist James Rosen, in both cases to try to identify sources of stories.

At the same time, a 2012 law signed by Obama improved protections for whistle-blowers, generally understood to be those in government who expose waste, fraud or abuse. Spillers of national security secrets needn't apply.

 
 

EZToUse.com

I am looking for: