Tue, Oct 15, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Obama brings chilling effect on journalism

Despite Obama’s pledges of transparency, a report last week revealed the administration’s ‘war on leaks and other efforts to control information’ are the most aggressive since the Richard Nixon administration

By Brett Zongker  /  AP, WASHINGTON

“Over the past four years, federal agencies have gone to great efforts to make government more transparent and more accessible than ever, to provide people with information that they can use in their daily lives,” Schultz said.

The administration has processed a record number of Freedom of Information Act requests and improved processing times, strengthened whistle-blower protections with a new law and improved transparency on government spending, data, lobbying and other information, Schultz said. He also said Obama has declassified volumes of information and signed orders limiting new classifications.

Schultz said existing whistleblower laws do not apply in the same way to employees at intelligence agencies, but he said Obama signed a directive to ensure such whistle-blowers are protected from retaliation.

In the report, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said such complaints about transparency are part of the “natural tension” between the White House and the press.

“The idea that people are shutting up and not leaking to reporters is belied by the facts,” Carney told Downie.

US National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said there is still investigative reporting about national security issues with information from “non-sanctioned sources with lots of unclassified information and some sensitive information.”

Downie found the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US were a “watershed moment,” leading to increased secrecy, surveillance and control of information. There is little direct comparison between the administrations of Bush and Obama, though some journalists told Downie that the Obama administration exercises more control.

“Every administration learns from the previous administration,” CBS chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer said. “They become more secretive and put tighter clamps on information.”

Shortly after Obama entered office, the White House was under pressure from intelligence agencies and US Congress to stop leaks of national security information. The administration’s first prosecution for leaking information came in April 2009, after a Hebrew linguist working for the FBI gave a blogger classified information about Israel.

Other prosecutions followed, targeting some government employees who believed they were whistle-blowers.

The administration has rejected whistle-blower claims if they do not involve “waste, fraud or abuse,” the report said.

So sources exposing questionable or illegal practices are considered leaks.

To date, six government employees and two contractors have been targeted for prosecution under the 1917 Espionage Act for accusations that they leaked classified information to the press. There were just three such prosecutions under all previous US presidents.

By last year, an AP report about the CIA’s success in foiling a bomb plot in Yemen further escalated the Obama administration’s efforts, even as the White House congratulated the CIA on the operation, Downie wrote. The disclosure in May that the government had secretly subpoenaed and seized AP telephone records drew sharp criticism from many news organizations and civil rights advocates.

Last month, the US Department of Justice announced AP’s telephone records led investigators to a former FBI bomb technician who pleaded guilty to disclosing the operation to a reporter.

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