When “peals of laughter broke out in the briefing room” after then‐press secretary Robert Gibbs floated the “most transparent administration” line at an April 2010 presser, the administration should have taken the hint. But it’s one soundbite they just can’t quit. Gibbs’ successor Jay Carney repeated it just last week, as did the president himself in a Google Hangout last year: “This is the most transparent administration in history … . I can document that this is the case.”
Actually, any number of journalists and open government advocates have documented that it’s not. As the Associated Press reported last month: “More often than ever, the [Obama] administration censored government files or outright denied access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.”
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In the hope‐infused afterglow of his first inauguration, President Obama declared, “for a long time now, there’s been too much secrecy in this city,” and ordered his attorney general to issue newly restrictive standards for government use of the “state secrets privilege,” which allows the government to shield national security secrets from civil or criminal discovery. Attorney General Eric Holder pledged that the administration would not “invoke the privilege for the purpose of concealing government wrongdoing or avoiding embarrassment.”
Easier pledged than done, apparently. Earlier this year, in a case involving a Stanford graduate student erroneously placed on a no‐fly list, we learned that the government had cried “state secrets” to cover up a paperwork error. Holder himself assured the court that assertion of the privilege was in keeping with the new policy of openness. When the presiding judge found out the truth, he said: “I feel that I have been had by the government.”
In fact, the Obama administration has driven state secrecy to new levels of absurdity. We’re not even allowed to know who we’re at war with, apparently, because letting that secret slip could cause “serious damage to national security.”
Over the last year, thanks in large part to illegal leaks, we’ve learned that we’re living in a [REDACTED] republic. In the president’s version of “transparency,” the Americans have no right to debate even the most basic public questions — like the legal standards for spying on or killing American citizens — unless, of course, that information leaks, at which point the administration “welcomes” the debate.