Thursday, July 22, 2010

Transparency: For the Right People, Apparently

This blog isn't political. Not in the sense that I consistently write that a Ms. Smith is the most intelligent woman in the universe, who by rights should have won every election she ran in - or that a Mr. Jones is a doo-doo-head who is unfit to serve as a human being. (more at June 21, 2009, and elsewhere)

This blog is concerned with the war on terror - whether that term is supposed to exist or not. (March 30, 2010) What America's government decides to do - or not do - about the real threat of people who want to kill us is determined, for the time being, by politicians.

As a result, I have to look at political matters from time to time.

Like this:
"Contrary to the Obama administration's promised commitment to open government, the Department of Homeland Security, in a highly irregular move, filtered hundreds of public records requests through political appointees, allowing them to examine what was being requested and delay releasing sensitive material, according to internal e-mails obtained by the Associated Press.

"The political appointees were allowed to vet records requests that were deemed politically sensitive and require career employees to provide them with information about who requested records — for example, where the requester lived and worked, whether the requester was a private citizen or journalist and, in the case of congressional representatives, whether they were Republican or Democrat.

"The DHS issued a directive to employees in July 2009 requiring a wide range of public records requests to pass through political appointees for vetting. These included any requests dealing with a 'controversial or sensitive subject' or pertaining to meetings involving prominent business leaders and elected officials. Requests from lawmakers, journalists, and activist and watchdog groups were also placed under this scrutiny.

"The reviewers included Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano's top staff members, including her deputy chief of staff, senior department lawyer and deputy director of scheduling...."
(Threat Level, Wired)
I think it's a good idea to be careful about what information is released to which people. The old adage, 'loose lips sink ships,' may sound corny - but there's good sense in it. (May 11, 2010)

However, I think that deciding what information is "sensitive" should be in the hands of someone whose job security isn't dependent on keeping a politico happy.

I was impressed, positively, when candidate Barack Obama said that he would promote 'transparency' in government. It's a fundamentally sound idea.

The problem is, it has to be turned from a sound idea into an established practice.

From the Office of Deniability: No Information Was Withheld

Like that one-time favorite of Hollywood, the letter of pardon from the Governor, some information becomes less and less useful, the longer it's withheld.
"...Although the vetting did not prevent information that should have been released from getting released, the AP noted, it did cause numerous delays - sometimes lasting weeks - in releasing records to Congress, watchdog groups and reporters. The delays led some department officials to worry about potential lawsuits, according to one internal e-mail the AP obtained.

" 'All this article points out is that senior leadership had visibility into FOIA releases to enable the department to be as responsive as possible to requests from the press and other stakeholders, especially as it pertained to documents generated during the previous administration, DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa told Threat Level in an e-mail statement. She noted that the department, under the Obama administration, had reduced a FOIA backlog inherited from the Bush administration from 74,879 requests at the end of fiscal year 2008 to just 12,406 requests as of this January and had also reduced the typical processing time for requests.

"The e-mails obtained by the AP, however, reveal that political appointees were less interested in vetting record requests for these reasons than for determining — based on the kinds of requests coming in - what areas of the government might be under scrutiny. Knowing what records journalists were requesting might help the administration prepare a response in anticipation of a news story. For example, the e-mails show concern about making sure the department didn't release information about Obama's father without first coordinating with the White House...."
(Threat Level, Wired)
I was impressed that the DHS spokesperson mentioned the size of the backlog at one point during the previous administration, compared to the size under Obama's enlightened oversight - without saying how the size of the backlog compared to the number of requests. I've talked about using, and misusing, facts before.

Can't We Just Trust the Government?

There are systems of government in which 'the masses' don't have to know what's going on. Instructions come from the Emperor, or whatever the top level is called: and responsibility for folks at my level ends when we receive our instructions, and obey.

A system like that can work, but it's not the way America gets things done.

Our system requires an informed electorate. That's informed, not fed whatever our betters think we should know.

As the upcoming midterm elections will probably demonstrate once again, it's messy: but the system works.

And I rather like it.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.