Another blow for “transparency you can believe in”

Via The Politico:

The Obama administration, which famously pledged to be the most transparent in American history, is pursuing an unexpectedly aggressive legal offensive against federal workers who leak secret information to expose wrongdoing, highlight national security threats or pursue a personal agenda.

In just over two years since President Barack Obama took office, prosecutors have filed criminal charges in five separate cases involving unauthorized distribution of classified national security information to the media. And the government is now mulling what would be the most high-profile case of them all – prosecuting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

That’s a sharp break from recent history, when the U.S. government brought such cases on three occasions in roughly 40 years.


Not only that, these advocates say, it runs counter to Obama’s pledges of openness by making it a crime to shine a light on the inner workings of government – especially when there are measures that could protect the nation’s interests without hauling journalists into court and government officials off to jail.

“It is not to me a good sign when government chooses to go after leakers using the full force of criminal law when there are other ways to handle these situations,” said Jane Kirtley, a University of Minnesota law professor and former executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “Of course, the government has to have some kind of remedy, [but] I’d certainly hope they’re being very selective about these prosecutions.”

Jesselyn Radack, a former Justice Department attorney now with the Government Accountability Project, said it’s “very destructive and damaging to be going after people for leaks that embarrass the government.” The policy, she said, is “a disturbing one particularly from a president who got elected pledging openness and transparency — and someone who also got elected thanks to a lot of [Bush-era] scandals that were revealed by whistleblowers.”

But Jack Goldsmith, a senior Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, said the U.S. intelligence apparatus — which is perhaps most at risk from leaks of classified information — has pressured Obama’s Justice Department to get tough.

“Leaking has gotten a lot worse over the last decade,” said Goldsmith, now a law professor at Harvard . “It’s viewed as sort of crisis in the intelligence community in the sense that there is a strong perceived need to do something about it.”

Yet Goldsmith notes an apparent double standard: top White House and administration officials give unauthorized information to Washington reporters almost daily, but authorities will come down hard if rank-and-file employees get caught doing the same thing. “Top officials frequently leak classified information and nothing happens to them,” he said.

Still, leak prosecutions brought under Obama amount to “almost twice as many as all previous presidents put together,” noted Daniel Ellsberg, who changed history and helped set a legal precedent when he handed the Pentagon’s top-secret assessment of the Vietnam War to New York Times reporters four decades ago. “The campaign here against whistleblowers is actually unprecedented in legal terms.”

Of course, we all we aware prior to him even being elected as President that Obama’s pledge to have the “most transparent Presidential administration evah” was a joke (well, it actually has been “transparent” in some ways – transparent in terms of political motivations, anyway), as were many of his promises to clean up “Business As Usual” in Washington, DC.  But in this case I’m not going to come down on him too hard because the national security leak issue is a very serious matter, and it looks like the President and the DOJ have grown up just a tiny bit via witnessing firsthand the brutal realities first hand of what it’s like to have sensitive classified information vital to our national and international security interests leaked on your (his) watch.

Now, you’d think this would be something that wouldn’t have been too hard to figure out even as a non-presidential figure, such as the short time period when Barack Obama was a junior Senator, when he was so harshly critical of GWB’s attempts at guarding against harmful leaks.   It’s not exactly rocket science, and you don’t have to be sitting in the big chair in the Oval Office to understand how national security leaks – which most of the time are done for opportunistic purposes rather than out of any real ‘concern’ for the ‘rule of law’ – can do serious harm to security efforts not only here at home, but abroad as well.   So, you know, better late than never – and all that.

He’ll take a few hits from the left side of the aisle, most of them being of the obligatory variety.  Whereas if we were talking about another Republican President, say if McCain had been elected and this news came to light, we’d be hearing the usual widespread calls from the so-called “concerned left” both in and outside of the MSM about how McCain was continuing the “Bush tradition” of turning this country into a “dictatorship.” Hearings would be demanded, etc.   But because it’s Obama, even critics believe he “means well” whereas with a Republican President, well, they do things like this because of their bloodlust for unchecked executive power…

Move along here, nothing to see.

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