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Information is the enemy

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[I wanted to rant on this issue, but I figured EoEO might be tired of my anti-Obama speeches. Though it is his fault for continuing to give me so much material. ]

To the government, information is the enemy. That is why the US government has demonized Wikileaks, because it threatens to shame governments for their misconduct. So-called issues of “national security” may have merit on certain, specific occasions, but the broad way the label is used makes it clear that that is not the central concern of the government; the main concern is secrecy.

No President has ever embodied the above principle more than Obama. Despite saying nice things about whistleblowers early in his Presidency, Obama’s administration has prosecuted an unprecedented number of them, more than all previous administrations combined. His administration goes after ever single leak it uncovers (that it didn’t itself plan, anyway), no matter how minor. It is like Obama (or someone very high up in his administration, such as Holder) is a petty, immature bully, who cannot stand the thought of someone disobeying orders. Jon Stewart recently ripped apart Obama on this issue.

Now the administration has argued in court documents that a reporter was engaged in a conspiracy to commit espionage when the reporter talked to a government leak. Not for helping to plan to illegally steal government info, but simply for receiving and publicizing information. One would have thought this sort of asinine and dangerous argument was foreclosed by New York Times v. US, when the Supreme Court told Nixon that he couldn’t prevent the NYT from publishing the leaked Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, but Obama has pretty clearly lost any semblance of a sane grasp of constitutional law as soon as he took the oath of office. One of the lawyers in the NYT case has now said that Obama is passing Nixon as the worst President ever when it comes issues of national security and freedom of the press. Considering he is also among the worst on civil liberties issues, after his Presidency is over I suspect much fewer people will disagree with my label of him as one of the worst Presidents in US history.

But I digress. This principle of secrecy has been embraced at every level of government in the US, including our police forces. Despite it becoming routine for state police forces to electronically record interrogations, the FBI stubbornly sticks to relying solely on FBI agent transcriptions, backed only by the agent’s word. How do they justify refusing to use such an easy method of definitive recording? According to the FBI itself:

First, the presence of the recording equipment may interfere with and undermine the successful rapport-building interviewing technique which the FBI practices. Second, FBI agents have successfully testified to custodial defendants’ statements for generations with only occasional, and rarely successful, challenges. Third, as all experienced investigators and prosecutors know, perfectly lawful and acceptable interviewing techniques do not always come across in recorded fashion to lay persons as proper means of obtaining information from defendants. [emphasis added]
Let me sum that up for you: 1) There might be a half-second pause when we have to hit the “on” button; 2) we don’t really need electronic recordings, because courts and juries generally believe whatever we tell them to anyway; and 3) oh yeah, and we don’t want them to know the real truth. Not being embarrassed, not being open to public scrutiny, not losing any battle, is more important than the truth. Absolutely horrifying.

In the NYT case, Justice Douglas offered some important words in his concurring opinion that are even more apt and vital today:

The dominant purpose of the First Amendment was to prohibit the widespread practice of governmental suppression of embarrassing information. It is common knowledge that the First Amendment was adopted against the widespread use of the common law of seditious libel to punish the dissemination of material that is embarrassing to the powers-that-be. The present cases will, I think, go down in history as the most dramatic illustration of that principle. A debate of large proportions goes on in the Nation over our posture in Vietnam. That debate antedated the disclosure of the contents of the present documents. The latter are highly relevant to the debate in progress.

Secrecy in government is fundamentally anti-democratic, perpetuating bureaucratic errors. Open debate and discussion of public issues are vital to our national health. On public questions, there should be "uninhibited, robust, and wide-open" debate.
If only the government itself shared that value. But the ones in charge are the ones who most value secrecy, to the detriment of the country and everyone else in it.

Updated 06-05-2013 at 02:30 AM by Raistlin

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  1. Jinx's Avatar
    I think people who are still happy with Obama are either stubborn or delusional.
  2. Pumpkin's Avatar
    I don't understand all of this.
  3. kotora's Avatar
    Thing about Obama is that he just looks and sounds so damn good on camera. He's one of the few US presidents that doesn't appear to be a total dumbass.
  4. Raistlin's Avatar
    I just realized there were a bunch of potentially confusing typos in the post. I should really proofread my longer posts. *fixes*

    Quote Originally Posted by Boobies
    I think people who are still happy with Obama are either stubborn or delusional.
    Well that, or they have horrifying values.

    Quote Originally Posted by kotora
    Thing about Obama is that he just looks and sounds so damn good on camera. He's one of the few US presidents that doesn't appear to be a total dumbass.
    He's a very intelligent person and an expert on general constitutional law, which just makes it worse. He knows exactly what he's doing, and why it's wrong. He himself pointed out that this sort of bulltrout was wrong during Dubya's administration. He just freely flouts those principles when it personally benefits him and his administration. He may not be a dumbass, but he's a lying, self-absorbed charlatan -- which is worse.
  5. kotora's Avatar
    The scary thing about Obama is that he's an intelligent guy you could have an decent conversation and probably agree on a lot of stuff. But at the end of the day, it just doesn't add up to what his administration is doing. At least least with Bush you could tell he was a cretin, someone to call the bad guy. Now it just seems everything is a lie. Even the republicans just seem to exist only to make Obama look better with all the insane trout they pull.
  6. Raistlin's Avatar
    Excellent interview of Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers.

    But 40 years have passed, and after 9/11 in particular, all of those lessons have been lost. There’s been very great tolerance that if the magic words “national security,” or the new words “homeland security” are invoked, Congress has given the president virtually a free hand in deciding what information they will know as well as the public. I wouldn’t count on the current court with its current makeup making the same ruling with the Pentagon Papers as they did 40 years ago. I’m sure that President Obama would have sought a life sentence in my case.

    Various things that were counted as unconstitutional then have been put in the president’s hands now. He’s become an elected monarch. Nixon’s slogan, “when the president does it, it’s not illegal,” is pretty much endorsed now. Meaning not only Obama but the people who come after him will have powers that no previous president had. Abilities on surveillance that no country in the history of the world has ever had.

    Interestingly, after the AP revelations and the [revelations about] Fox News reporter [James Rosen], who was actually charged with aiding and abetting a conspiracy with a source, every journalist has suddenly woken up to the fact that they’re under the gun. That may actually have the effect of waking people up to the fact that, for example, Attorney General Holder has been violating the Constitution steadily, and that he should be fired. But fired for what? For doing what had the approval of the president.

    Holder should be fired for a whole series of actions culminating in this subpoena for James Rosen’s cellphone records. I think that would be the first step of resistance in the right direction, of rolling back Obama’s campaign against journalism, freedom of the press in national security.