Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Obama Administration's Weird Obsession with Leaks

President Obama has fallen short of my hopes in many ways, but mainly those ways are what the more cynical part of my mind expected. I hoped he would withdraw quickly from Afghanistan, but he instead did just what he said he would do in his campaign, and sent yet more men to that pointless war. I hoped he would hold somebody accountable for torturing prisoners, but he never said he would, so it is hardly a surprise that he has resolutely swept all such questions under the rug.

But I am surprised by his administration's obsession with secrecy. He has kept up a Bush-level resistance to all probes into the internal workings of his administration, most famously with regard to the legal memos justifying his drone wars. This came up again recently when House Republicans asked for internal White House emails about Benghazi. "Try and take them" was pretty much the response.

And now the news that the Justice Department has gone completely haywire investigating leaks:
Federal investigators secretly seized two months of phone records for reporters and editors of The Associated Press in what the news organization said Monday was a “serious interference with A.P.’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.”

The A.P. said that the Justice Department informed it on Friday that law enforcement officials had obtained the records for more than 20 telephone lines of its offices and journalists, including their home phones and cellphones. It said the records were seized without notice sometime this year.

The organization was not told the reason for the seizure. But the timing and the specific journalistic targets strongly suggested they are related to a continuing government investigation into the leaking of information a year ago about the Central Intelligence Agency’s disruption of a Yemen-based terrorist plot to bomb an airliner.

The disclosures began with an Associated Press article on May 7, 2012, breaking the news of the foiled plot; the organization had held off publishing it for several days at the White House’s request because the intelligence operations were still unfolding.
Sigh. All power corrupts, and the US government's post 9-11 powers of spying and secrecy seem to be irresistible. This steady creep of ever-expanding secrecy will go on until we the voters insist that it stop, and I see no sign that will happen any time soon.


pootrsox said...

What's so sad is that an essentially decent man, Obama, has been sucked into this obscene obsession with secrecy.

Could it be another side of the "cool, intellectual" personna?

John said...

Yes, he may be very controlling under the cool facade.

Pepe said...

On the day of the inauguration in 2009, on the campus of one of the little Ivies, two Irish intellectuals there to give a lecture stopped to watch the ceremony on TV.

"It's the first time in my life I've ever wished I was an American," one said. All over the world people felt the same way. We were ecstatic. Things were going to change.

But then they didn't, and we realized we'd been had.

Before he died Howard Zinn warned us about Obama, but until now I thought I was the last person to catch on. I was still defending Obama in 2011.

pootrsox, could you tell me one thing Obama has done in his whole life to demonstrate he is essentially decent? He certainly looks decent, but I'd like to know of some specific act of decency.

Secondly, do you know of anything to suggest he's 'intellectual"? He's certainly got the Harvard Law act down, but do you know of anything "intellectual" he's really said or done? Do you know of any book he's read since he left law school?

To win political office requires obscene amounts of money now, money available only from mega-corporations, which in this way determine who will run, and in the end, who will be elected.

Obama, a poor-performing student at an obscure California college, caught someone's eye, was selected, taken back east and groomed for a political role.

John, I know, lives near D.C., and maybe you do too, so maybe you know people who have sat in meetings and watched Obama demonstrate what passes for leadership in Washington in this era.

He listens, relaxed and unengaged, for a few minutes -- never more than five -- and then says, well, let's go with what so-and-so recommends.

The people around the president are seldom experts. They were chosen for political reasons, not expertise, and they too are beholden to outside interests.

Whatever the final decision, it's unlikely to be in the interest of the average American.

John said...

Fighting to get health insurance for all Americans is decent, and Obama has been successful there. Fighting to reduce CO2 emissions is decent; Obama tried to do that in a big way, but failed, so he has been pursuing it in little ways, through fuel economy standards for cars and limits on coal-fired power plants. Ending torture was decent. I think taxing the rich and using the money to help the poor is decent, and Obama has made this his mission.

It seems plain to me that Obama is very smart, but indeed he approaches big issues more as a politician than as a professor. He obviously thinks about everything in terms of voting outcomes and his fund-raising base. I think he decided not to pursue justice for torturers because of the political cost.

But that is what politicians do; FDR and Johnson were no different. As to whether he is a good person, maybe not, but nobody who is not a megalomaniac would even run for president. So we are essentially suck with different kinds of megalomaniacs.

Maybe Obama has not really achieved very much, other than the Affordable Care Act, withdrawing from two wars and not joining another. But I think he has done about all anyone could have done under the circumstances.