Saturday, June 11, 2011

Not the kind of TRANSPARENCY we had in mind

As you get poked, groped and humiliated at the airport, it finally dawns on you this is not the kind of transparency we had in mind. Average Americans are unwittingly becoming more transparent with each passing day.

Were being told that the government needs to have full access to every aspect of our lives in a never-ending war on terror - just another cliché used to justify the unacceptable. The government can see what you read, whom you call, what you e-mail, where you drive. In our big brothers infinite wisdom, were not allowed to see what is being done behind closed doors in the name of the government of the people, by the people, for the people (at least that was the idea).

The current administration is even more intent on plugging the leaks than the last one. Theyve initiated more leak prosecutions than any other administration ever attempted. Ongoing cases include US Army PFC Bradley Manning (accused of releasing information to Wikileaks), Stephen Kim (accused of providing information to a television reporter); and Jeffrey Sterling (accused of passing classified information to author and New York Times reporter James Risen).

Leakers and whistleblowers are often incorrectly placed in the same category by the press. The main difference between the way the government approaches these two distinctly different groups is that leakers are prosecuted for their leaks to the media, while whistleblowers are usually attacked in more covert ways and accused of unrelated offenses as a pretext for retaliating against them through the use of our legal system that was supposed to protect them. They get transferred, demoted, reprimanded, accused of sexual offenses or misconduct and eventually fired, prosecuted, crushed. Very few come out intact on the other side of the whistleblower grinder, while the government cranks up the handle faster than ever.

The reason that would-be whistleblowers choose the route of leaking to the media in lieu of going through official channels is because theyre already aware that many Offices of Inspector General have become the Venus Flytraps akin to Mao Tse-tungs "Hundred Flowers" campaign. The agencies encourage people to come and complain only to identify and eradicate the troublemakers from their ranks.

The press tends to profile the leakers more often than whistleblowers. There seem to be two prevailing reasons for that: (1) leakers are often the sources for some of the best stories and (2) their stories are more straightforward, since theyre charged with offenses surrounding their disclosures. Retaliation against whistleblowers often morphs into completely unrelated accusations and prosecutions that on their surface are not related to their whistleblowing disclosure (but at heart are the very reason for the persecution in question). Those are more complex stories that are being left up to the authors and filmmakers to untangle, while the mainstream media concentrates on Weinergate, celebrity break-ups and similar trivial pursuits.

Being criminally prosecuted is one of the worst things that could be done to a whistleblower or a leaker. Not everyone can stand this kind of pressure, which is exactly why the government often chooses this mode of retribution. On June 9, 2011, Thomas Drake agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge to avoid the upcoming espionage trial. This will only further empower and embolden the government to criminally charge more leakers and whistleblowers.

Do they have any incentive to stop when our good government groups are behaving more like lapdogs than watchdogs? In March of 2011, Obama met quietly in the Oval Office with Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight, Gary Bass of OMB Watch, Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive, Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Patrice McDermott of OpenTheGovernment.org. These groups have bestowed a Transparency Award upon President Obama, while in the same breath decrying this administrations lack of transparency.

As Glenn Greenwald aptly put it, It is not hyperbole to say that the Obama administration is waging an all-out war against transparency and whistleblowing (and the transparency groups who obsequiously awarded Obama a transparency award [one accepted in secret] are as disgraceful as the five Norwegians who awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize...)

Five Norwegians who awarded the Nobel Peace Prize have some semblance of an excuse, since it preceded the commencement of our intercontinental military adventures. Five advocacy groups who came up with the absurd Transparency Award (POGO, OMB Watch, National Security Archive, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and OpenTheGovernment.org) have no excuse whatsoever, since the undeserved prize actually followed the pattern of inexcusable behavior that should hardly be rewarded.

The government's responsiveness under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is widely considered a barometer of transparency. According to an analysis by the Associated Press, two years into its pledge to improve government transparency, the Obama administration took action on fewer FOIA requests from citizens, journalists, companies and others.

"Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing," Obama said when he took office." Of course, when the government doesnt want you to know what its doing, the only transparency you can count on is your own.

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