President Obama, Tear Down That Classification Scheme!

President George W. Bush and President-elect B...

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This just makes my head explode…from a timely and important op-ed in the New York Times:

A former top official in charge of ensuring that real secrets are kept secret has delivered a stunning repudiation of the Obama administration’s decision to use the Espionage Act against a whistle-blower attempting to expose government waste and abuse.

J. William Leonard, who directed the Information Security Oversight Office during the George W. Bush administration, filed a formal complaint about the prosecution with the Justice Department and the National Security Agency, and urged punishment of officials who needlessly classify documents that contain no actual secrets.

In the case in question, Thomas Drake, an N.S.A. employee, faced 35 years in prison for espionage after he leaked information to a reporter about a potential billion-dollar computer boondoggle. The case collapsed last month with Mr. Drake walking away after a token misdemeanor plea to providing information to an unauthorized person. The government was deservedly berated by Judge Richard Bennett of Federal District Court in Maryland for an “unconscionable” pursuit of the accused across “four years of hell.”

Prosecutors dropped the felony charges at the 11th hour after Judge Bennett ordered them to show allegedly classified material to the jury. But Mr. Leonard said he was willing to testify for Mr. Drake that there were no secrets at issue and that he had never seen “a more deliberate and willful example of government officials improperly classifying a document.”

The Obama administration has misguidedly used the Espionage Act in five such cases of news media disclosures; previously there were no more than four in all of White House history. This comes as officials classified nearly 77 million documents last year — a one-year jump of 40 percent. The government claim that this was because of improved reporting is not reassuring.

I voted for Obama last time. I will again. This is no secret to anyone who knows me, nor should it be much of a shock, given the alternatives. But it’s high time the access community got past the whole partisanship thing and started pummeling, really pummeling this President, who grows more secretive by the day.

Of course, maybe that is part of the problem: as the lone centrist in presidential politics these days, Obama knows he can repeatedly ignore the will of the openness community in quite a callow way, and the repercussions are nil. He pays no price from his base — much the way W paid no price for his secrecy, couching it in terms of executive power, which was quite the fashion of the day.

Still, we in the access community have a moral obligation to blast the administration for petty, vindictive, small-minded governing, not one iota less a duty than we had during the previous administration. I’m picking up a pen right now, and going to work…




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