Obama Administration Sets Another Record For Government Secrecy

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

The Associated Press, which has filed a lawsuit over Hillary Clinton’s secret email server, isn’t terribly impressed with the rest of the Obama Administration’s commitment to transparency either:

For the second consecutive year, the Obama administration more often than ever censored government files or outright denied access to them under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.

The government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly that it couldn’t find documents, and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy.

It also acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law — but only when it was challenged.

Its backlog of unanswered requests at year’s end grew remarkably by 55 percent to more than 200,000.

This comes as public interest in the Freedom of Information Act is higher than ever: “Citizens, journalists, businesses and others made a record 714,231 requests for information. The U.S. spent a record $434 million trying to keep up.”

It’s long been a joke to refer to this highly secretive and opaque President as head of “The Most Transparent Administration Ever,” but Obama flacks actually do make such claims to this day… even though the cooked books they use to claim a high rate of responsiveness to information requests actually show that they’re worse than previous Administrations.

“The White House touted its success under its own analysis,” the AP writes. “It routinely excludes from its assessment instances when it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the request was determined to be improper under the law, and said under this calculation it released all or parts of records in 91 percent of requests — still a record low since President Barack Obama took office using the White House’s own math.”

The atmosphere of secrecy is set at the very top, as made clear by an anecdote related by the Associated Press:

Under the president’s instructions, the U.S. should not withhold or censor government files merely because they might be embarrassing, but federal employees last year regularly misapplied the law. In emails that AP obtained from the National Archives and Records Administration about who pays for Michelle Obama’s expensive dresses, the agency blacked-out a sentence under part of the law intended to shield personal, private information, such as Social Security numbers, phone numbers or home addresses. But it failed to censor the same passage on a subsequent page.

The sentence: “We live in constant fear of upsetting the WH (White House).

This article buttresses a point that can’t be made often enough: when you read a news story about some blockbuster tidbit of information retrieved with a Freedom of Information Act “request,” the truth is that the information was almost always pried loose with a FOIA lawsuit. The requests don’t go anywhere, unless they’re for entirely innocuous info. Lawsuits are what penetrate the Obama stone wall, and those take a long time to resolve.

That’s the beauty of Obama scandal protocols: they know the press won’t generally harass an Administration it loves about the timeliness of disclosure, and public outrage has a very limited lifespan. The AP mentions that “in nearly 1 in 3 cases, when someone challenged under appeal the Administration’s initial decision to censor or withhold files, the government reconsidered and acknowledged it was at least partly wrong.”

Such reversed decisions buy valuable time. As long as the truth is kept hidden for a few news cycles, friendly media and Obama’s Pajama Boy army can defuse nearly any bombshell. Devastating stories wither into historical footnotes. Dominoes don’t fall in a cascade if they’re moved far enough apart.

Along those same lines, the AP cites a law requiring the government to give priority consideration to urgent requests from journalists concerning breaking news stories. “The government now routinely denies such requests,” says the report. “Over six years, the number of requests granted speedy processing status fell from nearly half to fewer than 1 in 8. The CIA, at the center of so many headlines, has denied every such request the last two years.”