The American Bear


Obama Political Appointees Using Secret Email Accounts

The latest obfuscation from The Most Transparent Administration Ever™:

Some of President Barack Obama’s political appointees, including the secretary for Health and Human Services, are using secret government email accounts they say are necessary to prevent their inboxes from being overwhelmed with unwanted messages [which is bullshit], according to a review by The Associated Press.

The scope of using the secret accounts across government remains a mystery: Most U.S. agencies have failed to turn over lists of political appointees’ email addresses, which the AP sought under the Freedom of Information Act more than three months ago. The Labor Department initially asked the AP to pay more than $1 million for its email addresses.

The AP asked for the addresses following last year’s disclosures that the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency had used separate email accounts at work. The practice is separate from officials who use personal, non-government email accounts for work, which generally is discouraged – but often happens anyway – due to laws requiring that most federal records be preserved.

The secret email accounts complicate an agency’s legal responsibilities to find and turn over emails in response to congressional or internal investigations, civil lawsuits or public records requests because employees assigned to compile such responses would necessarily need to know about the accounts to search them. Secret accounts also drive perceptions that government officials are trying to hide actions or decisions.

“What happens when that person doesn’t work there anymore? He leaves and someone makes a request (to review emails) in two years,” said Kel McClanahan, executive director of National Security Counselors, an open government group. “Who’s going to know to search the other accounts? You would hope that agencies doing this would keep a list of aliases in a desk drawer, but you know that isn’t happening.”

Agencies where the AP so far has identified secret addresses, including the Labor Department and HHS, said maintaining non-public email accounts allows senior officials to keep separate their internal messages with agency employees from emails they exchange with the public. They also said public and non-public accounts are always searched in response to official requests and the records are provided as necessary.

The AP couldn’t independently verify the practice. It searched hundreds of pages of government emails previously released under the open records law and found only one instance of a published email with a secret address: an email from Labor Department spokesman Carl Fillichio to 34 coworkers in 2010 was turned over to an advocacy group, Americans for Limited Government. It included as one recipient the non-public address for Seth D. Harris, currently the acting labor secretary, who maintains at least three separate email accounts.

Google can’t find any reference on the Internet to the secret address for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Congressional oversight committees told the AP they were unfamiliar with the non-public government addresses identified so far by the AP.

Ten agencies have not yet turned over lists of email addresses, including the Environmental Protection Agency; the Pentagon; and the departments of Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Treasury, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Homeland Security, Commerce and Agriculture. All have said they are working on a response to the AP.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz declined to comment. [more

My life was turned upside down.” Drake said at his National Press Club speech.“I know for a fact that everything you could find out or anything you could possibly imagine in your life — any transaction, all your e-mails, any and all subscriber information with any concern, including telecommunication concerns — was all exposed to the government. Because they were looking for what was necessary to indict me.” When the government designates whistleblowers as espionage targets, Drake said in an interview, that designation gives them “free rein to tear your life apart. War on Whistleblowers: How the Obama Administration Destroyed Thomas Drake For Exposing Government Waste

Obama Signs Bill Gutting Transparency Provisions in Insider Trading Law

President Obama has signed into law a measure critics say guts key transparency provisions from a law designed to combat insider trading by members of Congress. The new bill repeals a requirement in the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act that high-level federal officials disclose financial information online. But, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, it also removes requirements for the searchable and electronic filing of information related to potential conflicts of interest by the president, vice president, Congress and other officials. On its website, the Center wrote: "Without the provisions, the STOCK act is made toothless. Insider trading by members of Congress and federal employees is still prohibited, but the ability of watchdog groups to verify that Congress is following its own rules is severely limited because these records could still be filed on paper — an unacceptably outdated practice that limits the public’s access.”

AF removes RPA airstrike number from summary | Air Force News

For those who think handing the drone program over to DoD will increase transparency:

As scrutiny and debate over the use of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) by the American military increased last month, the Air Force reversed a policy of sharing the number of airstrikes launched from RPAs in Afghanistan and quietly scrubbed those statistics from previous releases kept on their website.

Last October, Air Force Central Command started tallying weapons releases from RPAs, broken down into monthly updates. At the time, AFCENT spokeswoman Capt. Kim Bender said the numbers would be put out every month as part of a service effort to “provide more detailed information on RPA ops in Afghanistan.”

The Air Force maintained that policy for the statistics reports for November, December and January. But the February numbers, released March 7, contained empty space where the box of RPA statistics had previously been.

Click here to see the original December 2012 and January 2013 statistics and the ones apparently loaded online Feb. 22.

Additionally, monthly reports hosted on the Air Force website have had the RPA data removed — and recently.

Those files still contained the RPA data as of Feb. 16, according to archived web pages accessed via Metadata included in the new, RPA-less versions of the reports show the files were all created Feb. 22.

Defense Department spokesman Cmdr. Bill Speaks said the department was not involved in the decision to remove the statistics. AFCENT did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

The data removal coincided with increased scrutiny on RPA policy caused by President Barack Obama’s nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA. Brennan faced opposition in the Senate over the use of RPAs and his defense of their legality in his role as Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

On Feb. 20, two days before the metadata indicates the scrubbed files were created, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., sent a letter to Brennan saying that he would filibuster the nomination over concerns about using RPA strikes inside the U.S., a threat he carried out for over 12 hours on March 6 (Brennan was confirmed the next day).

Obama Administration Stokes Embers of GOP Interest in Oversight by Blowing Off Targeted Killing Hearing | Marcy Wheeler

Boy, what fucking idiots run DOJ (and, presumably, the Obama Administration generally).

As I noted when I first remarked on Bob Goodlatte, the new Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, showing some interest in the targeted killing memo, a perceived slight on Congressional prerogative (and perhaps a suspicion that paranoid levels of secrecy tends to indicate misconduct somewhere) seemed to get mainstream Republicans like Goodlatte interested in the targeted killing program for the first time.

And then HJC decided to hold a hearing on targeted killing, something solidly within their jurisdiction. And then Goodlatte invited a representative from DOJ, something they get to do to conduct oversight.

And then DOJ blew off HJC.

Whoo boy! You had Trey Gowdy, of all people, out there endorsing the idea of killing people in everything from hot pursuit to stand your ground contexts, but still demanding on oversight in this case. You had Republican after Republican (and more Republicans did show up, even given the committee imbalance) show an interest in the proper limits to a President’s authority to kill. Republican after Republican (plus a few Democrats, including John Conyers) complained that the Administration had blown off the committee.

I mean, I’ll take it. If the Administration wants to stupidly give the GOP a reason to make this a political issue, I’m happy to finally have someone pushing for oversight in this area.

But I can’t imagine what kind of stupidity drove the decision to blow off the committee.

Needless to say, President Obama’s suggestion that we would see some “transparency” around the murder program wasn’t sincere. What he meant was that he’d be unleashing Robert Gibbs to justify and normalize the program with the fearless “progressive” vanguard on MSNBC.

When I went through the process of becoming press secretary, one of the things, one of the first things they told me was, ‘You’re not even to acknowledge the drone program. You’re not even to discuss that it exists.’

White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs referring to the Obama Administration banning him from speaking about drones. (via anarcho-queer)

"And I obeyed. And beyond that, I’ll never talk about it as a contributor to MSNBC except to defend it or try to justify it,” he added. “Like I did when I suggested Abdulrahman al-Awlaki should have somehow picked another father to avoid being murdered.”

(via anarcho-queer)

Obama DOJ again refuses to tell a court whether CIA drone program even exists | Glenn Greenwald

[…] As ludicrous as the DOJ’s secrecy claims were before, they have now reached Alice in Wonderland proportions. Just last week, Obama’s nominee to lead the CIA, John Brennan, spent hours upon hours before the Senate Intelligence Committee praising the CIA targeted killing program and discussing the oversight he would make available for that program as CIA director. Then, GOP House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers went on Face the Nation and did the same; when asked if “the administration has been straight with Congress in sharing information on what the rules are about using” drones, Rep. Rogers replied: “Monthly, I have my committee go to the CIA to review them. I as chairman review every single air strike that we use in the war on terror, both from the civilian and the military side when it comes to terrorist strikes.”

Clearer and more definitive acknowledgment by the US government that the CIA has a drone program is impossible to imagine. As a result, late last week, the ACLU wrote a letter to the appellate court where its case is now pending to notify the court of these new public acknowledgments. Specifically, as the ACLU put it, Brennan and the Committee members “extensively discussed various aspects of the CIA’s targeted-killing program, including the ‘role’ of the ‘CIA director in [the] approval process’ for targeted killings abroad”. Moreover, Rogers openly “discusse[d] his committee’s ‘monthly’ oversight of the CIA’s targeted-killing program.” Now, there is simply no way to deny in good faith that the US government has publicly and officially acknowledged the CIA drone program.

But good faith is no impediment to the Obama DOJ when it comes to its abuse of secrecy powers. [On Thursday] morning, the DOJ sent a letter to the court replying to the ACLU. Ever after the events of last week, they have the audacity to claim that even the question of whether there is a CIA drone program must still be concealed. The DOJ argues - completely falsely - that the ACLU “identif[ies] no statement in which Mr. Brennan allegedly confirms purported CIA involvement in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for ‘targeted killing’”, but merely cite “general discussions of ‘targeted killing’ that do not address the involvement of any particular agency”. They dismiss the admissions of Chairman Rogers on the ground that “statements made by members of Congress do not constitute official disclosure by an Executive Branch agency.”

Just think about that: Obama and his aides routinely boast about the drone program to make the president look like daddy-protector tough guy. Someone in the administration just disclosed last week to NBC News a “white paper” sent by the Obama DOJ to Congress purporting to legally justify the CIA assassination program. Everyone knows and is now debating whether the CIA should be doing this.

But what is missing from the debate is the most basic information about what the CIA does and even their claimed legal justification for doing it. The Obama administration still refuses to publicly disclose the OLC memo that purported to authorize it (they agreed two weeks ago to make it available only to certain members of Congress without staff present, thus still maintaining “secret law”). They conceal all of this - and thus prevent basic democratic accountability - based on the indescribably cynical and inane pretense that they cannot even confirm or deny the existence of the CIA program without seriously jeopardizing national security.

This is a complete perversion of their secrecy powers. Even among the DC cliques that exist to defend US government behavior, one would be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to defend what is being done here. The Obama administration runs around telling journalists how great and precise and devastating the CIA’s assassination program is, then tells courts that no disclosure is permissible because they cannot safely confirm in court that the program even exists.

Such flagrant abuse of secrecy power is at once Orwellian and tyrannical. It has the effect of blocking even the most minimal transparency on the most consequential question: the government’s claimed authority to execute anyone it wants without charges, far from a battlefield, in total secrecy. It yet again demonstrates that excessive government secrecy is an infinitely greater threat than unauthorized disclosures. [++]

The Obama administration does not dislike leaks of classified information. To the contrary, it is a prolific exploiter of exactly those types of leaks - when they can be used to propagandize the citizenry to glorify the president’s image as a tough guy, advance his political goals or produce a multi-million-dollar Hollywood film about his greatest conquest. Leaks are only objectionable when they undercut that propaganda by exposing government deceit, corruption and illegality. … This Obama whistleblower war has nothing to do with national security. It has nothing to do with punishing those who harm the country with espionage or treason. It has everything to do with destroying those who expose high-level government wrongdoing. It is particularly devoted to preserving the government’s ability to abuse its power in secret by intimidating and deterring future acts of whistleblowing and impeding investigative journalism. This Obama whistleblower war continues to escalate because it triggers no objections from Republicans (who always adore government secrecy) or Democrats (who always adore what Obama does), but most of all because it triggers so few objections from media outlets, which - at least in theory - suffer the most from what is being done. Kiriakou and Stuxnet: the danger of the still-escalating Obama whistleblower war | Glenn Greenwald

I and many others who work to protect free speech fundamentally disagree with the president’s position that his administration should control disclosures to Congress. Proper checks and balances cannot occur if the executive branch can keep secrets from Congress. Angela Canterbury, the director of public policy for the Project On Government Oversight. Read more about how President Obama has surpassed President Bush in his use of signing statements that threaten free speech and whistleblower protections. (via govtoversight)

(via nickturse)

[R]emarkably, one of the topics on which the IC [intelligence community] is stonewalling [Senator Ron] Wyden–where the IC has engaged in lethal counterterrorism authorities–may well be precisely the issue that set off this [so-called renewed congressional oversight] process back in June 2009, the use not just of drones to kill alleged terrorists, but also assassination squads. Even as Wyden made this timeline clear, he also revealed not only that the CIA lied to all the outside entities overseeing its torture program, but continues to lie to the American people about that program. As Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor and an at least tangential participant in the earlier decisions on the ‘lethal counterterrorism authorities,’ John Brennan has presumably been instrumental in the continued stonewalling of Congress. In a few weeks, he hopes to be approved to lead the CIA. Rather than Lying to Congress, CIA Now Blows It Off | emptywheel

The [Obama] Administration–in which [Brennan] serves as the key counterterrorism advisor–successfully fought to ensure programs covered by [the ‘Gloves Come Off' Memo of Notification] his hero Cofer Black dreamt up would never see the light of day. Unless another circuit disagrees with the 2nd, American citizens will never get to know who and how things like the drone targeting program get authorized. I have repeatedly noted that with the move to CIA, Congress at least has the authority to exercise some oversight over Brennan; they don’t have oversight over him in the White House. But at least within the 2nd Circuit, that court ruling will ensure that when John Brennan removes the gloves, he remains immune from public oversight. Whether Brennan believes in public debate or not (his actions, as opposed to the anonymous statements of his boosters, suggests he does not), he is taking over CIA with the probability that any performance of transparency (like his mendacious speech on drones) will be just that: a performance protected from any real check on his lies. John Brennan Promises to Take the Gloves Off | emptywheel

Thus Mr. Obama has presided over twice as many such cases as all his predecessors combined, though at least two of the six prosecutions since 2009 resulted from investigations begun under President George W. Bush. An outcry over a series of revelations last year — about American cyberattacks on Iran, a double agent who infiltrated the Qaeda branch in Yemen and procedures for targeted killings — prompted Mr. Holder to begin new leak investigations that have not yet produced any charges. The resulting chill on officials’ willingness to talk is deplored by journalists and advocates of open government; without leaks, they note, Americans might never have learned about the C.I.A.’s interrogation methods or the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping. But for supporters of greater secrecy, the chill is precisely the goal. Ex-Officer Is First in C.I.A. to Face Prison for a Leak | NYT

Judge rebuffs feds' secret arguments on no-fly list | Josh Gerstein

A federal judge in California has rejected the Obama administration’s effort to use secret arguments and evidence to defeat a lawsuit relating to the so-called no-fly list designed to keep suspected terrorists off of airline flights.

U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup turned down a motion by the Justice Department to dismiss former Stanford student Rahinah Ibrahim’s lawsuit against various federal government agencies over her reported inclusion on the no-fly list as well as an incident in September 2005 where she was barred from taking a flight from San Francisco and detained for a couple of hours.

Alsup, who sits in San Francisco, also refused the Justice Department’s offer to show him affidavits from law enforcement officials which the government would not share with Ibrahim or her attorneys.

“Here the government seeks to affirmatively use allegedly privileged information to dispose of the case entirely without ever revealing to the other side what its secret evidence might be,” Alsup wrote in an order filed last week. “Only in the rarest of circumstances should a district judge, in his or her discretion, receive ex parte argument and evidence in secret from only one side aimed at winning or ending a case over the objection of the other side. Here, the government has not justified its sweeping proposal.”

“It has gone so far as even to redact from its table of authorities some of the reported caselaw on which it relies! This is too hard to swallow,” Alsup wrote. [++]

Obama 'drone-warfare rulebook' condemned by human rights groups |

… Human-rights groups and peace groups opposed to the CIA-operated targeted-killing programme, which remains officially classified, said the administration had already rejected international law in pursuing its drone operations.

“To say they are rewriting the rulebook implies that there is already a rulebook” said Jameel Jaffer, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Center for Democracy. “But what they are already doing is rejecting a rulebook – of international law – that has been in place since [the second world war].”

He said the news was “frustrating”, because it relied on “self-serving sources”. The New York Times piece was written by one of the journalists who first exposed the existence of a White House “kill list”, in May.

ACLU is currently involved in a legal battle with the US government over the legal memo underlying the controversial targeted killing programme, the basis for drone strikes that have killed American citizens and the process by which individuals are placed on the kill list.

Jaffer said it was impossible to make a judgement about whether the “rulebook” being discussed, according to the Times, was legal or illegal.

“It is frustrating how we are reliant on self-serving leaks” said Jaffer. “We are left with interpreting shadows cast on the wall. The terms that are being used by these officials are undefined, malleable and without definition. It is impossible to know whether they are talking about something lawful or unlawful. [++]

The Dark Side Of The Obama White House | Dan Froomkin

Obama’s neoconversion story:

The most conspicuous reaction in Washington to a series of astonishing national security revelations, many of which emerged in two new books, has come from prominent members of Congress demanding investigations into who leaked them.

One member, California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, even complained of learning more from one of the books than she did in her top oversight post over the intelligence community.

But anybody upset about finding things out this way should be angry at the people who didn’t tell them what they needed to know — not the ones who did. […]

[In his book, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power, David] Sanger concludes that the biggest surprise of the Obama presidency is just how aggressive he has been in his application of military power. But a case can be made that what’s even more surprising is Obama’s abuse of secrecy. Publicly an advocate of government transparency and oversight, Obama has nevertheless hidden the most controversial and unilateral aspects of his presidency — including new ways of waging acknowledged and unacknowledged wars — more thoroughly and effectively than anyone might have imagined.

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