Citing a two-decade trend toward ‘excessive controls on public information’, 38 journalism and open government organizations sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to address what amounts to ‘censorship’, including ‘political suppression of news and information’ and ‘an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear’ from federal agency employees.
Noting polices that prohibit journalists from communicating with agency staff, that require government Public Information Officers to vet interview questions and monitor interviews between journalists and sources, the Society of Professional Journalists and allies including Defending Dissent Foundation are concerned that the public is being deprived of information that is essential to governance in a democratic society.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest responded on behalf of the President with a positive list of accomplishments including improvements in federal FOIA response, the administration’s work for whistleblower protection legislation, and a number of other transparency initiative. However, the shiny list of milestones becomes tarnished once the details are examined. More whistleblowers have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act under Obama than all other administrations combined. Ask Chelsea Manning, Thomas Drake, John Kirakou, or William Binney.
Also, thanks to Ivan Greenberg, we have some specific data on the FBI with regard to FOIA requests. In 1998, 36% of FBI responses to FOIA requests was that ‘no records exist’. In subsequent years, that number rose as follows: ‘no records’ in 48% of requests in 2000; 55% in 2004; and 71% in 2007. Really?
The Washington Post reported on an Associated Press analysis of federal data found that “the Obama administration has grown more secretive over time, last year censoring or outright denying FOIA access to government files more than ever since Obama took office.” The article also cited an analysis by the National Security Archives: ‘54 percent of all agencies have ignored directives that Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder issued in 2009 calling for a “presumption of disclosure” with FOIA requests.’ Hey it’s only been four years! That sounds abysmal until you read that ‘that number is down from about 70 percent of agencies last year.’