La Prensa, Honduras
Obama and the Secrets
By Ricardo Trotti
Translated By Sullivan
14 May 2012
Edited by Mark DeLucas
Honduras - La Prensa - Original Article (Spanish)
If Standard & Poor’s measured the indices of classified information imposed by a government, surely it would punish Barack Obama’s government as it did last year when it lowered the United States' credit rating from AAA to AA +.
The Obama administration has stepped up prosecution against those who leak government information and has outdone itself in its effort to classify public information, with an estimated 77 million documents being classified as secret in recent years, despite promises of greater transparency and openness.
This week, the federal government launched an investigation to find the person responsible for leaking information to the press that it believes endangered the safety of a CIA double agent who broke up an al-Qaida terrorist plot to bring down a U.S. commercial airliner with a sophisticated explosive. The investigation could lead to the seventh prosecution brought recently by Washington against an informer from within officialdom.
Although the government has valid arguments on legal and national security grounds, it can be criticized for excessively stretching the laws under the pretext of disciplining anonymous official sources — the ones whose disclosure of information of real public interest that the authorities are fixated on keeping secret is essential to journalism.
Of the six court cases against whistle-blowers, the best known is that against the soldier Bradley Manning, who faces punishment under the Espionage Act, up to and including the death penalty, for leaking thousands of diplomatic cables to the WikiLeaks website. Other harsh sentences are pending against whistle-blowers from the National Security Agency, the FBI, the CIA and the State Department for leaking to journalists, bloggers and other media information that the press had often already gotten from other anonymous sources.
But just as the government has a responsibility to guard its secrets and punish leakers, it is also the responsibility of journalists, says journalistic ethics expert Edward Wasserman, to protest and protect these sources, not because they make their jobs easier, but to ensure that meaningful public information comes to light.
In a column in The Miami Herald, Wasserman said the silence on the subject by editors, when Obama participated in the annual conference of the American Society of News Editors was, “an abdication of the media’s role as a voice in shaping public policy.”
The organizations that protect the freedom of the press often ask for more balance from the government, including compliance with security laws and maintenance of openness of information. In its recent report, the Inter-American Press Association questioned the U.S. government about the prosecution of sources, the invasive electronic surveillance that allows for the interception of messages from persons minimally suspected of terrorist activities, the inspection of personal records, including library use, and Congress's bottling up of a federal bill that would allow journalists to protect sources in court and avoid ending up in jail, even if their complaints were relevant.
Because of this official attitude to jealously keep secret what should be public or what would be embarrassing, several U.S. news organizations filed suit in April to attain unrestricted access to the war crimes tribunals at Guantanamo. Another aim is to gain access to the testimonies of several defendants, such as those of the Saudi Al Rahim al Nashiri, for details on acts of torture, which, although they are public, the Pentagon insists are classified as national secrets.
Clearly, the post-9/11 era has brought more governmental control over national security and the citizenry. But the problem is that such control sometimes leads to paranoia, which allows the government to pursue information leaks, monitor citizens, classify or censor information while threatening other social and democratic values such as the right to privacy, freedom of information and accountability.
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