Citing the Obama administration Justice Department's war on whistleblowers as one of many examples of excessive secrecy, the National Security Archive at George Washington University awarded the 7th annual Rosemary Award (named for Nixon tape-eraser secretary Rosemary Woods) to the Department of Justice. WaPo reports:
The Justice Department, beating fierce competition from the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security and others, has won this year’s coveted Rosemary Award, named for President Richard M. Nixon’s secretary Rose Mary Woods , who somehow erased 181 / 2 minutes of a crucial Watergate tape.
The seventh annual award, presented by the George Washington University-based National Security Archive, honors the agency that has done the very most in the previous year to enhance government secrecy and keep the public in the dark.
The Archive said the department, among other things, engaged in “selective and abusive prosecutions of espionage laws against whistleblowers as ostensible ‘leakers’ of classified information” and conducted “more ‘leaks’ prosecutions in the last three years than in all previous years combined,” while experts say “over-classification” of government documents is endemic.
I represented the first victim of the Justice Department's ill-advised policy of using the Espionage Act to target whistleblowers: National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake. The Justice Department's case against Drake collapsed in spectacular fashion in the days before trial in the face of adverse rulings in court and overwhelmingly negative media coverage.
The Archive also cited what it called a “pit bull” lawyer at the department (isn’t this usually a compliment?) for doggedly pursuing New York Times reporter James Risen and a CIA whistleblower.
That would be William Welch II, who prior to his appointment as General in the war on whistleblowers, led the not-so-crack team in the botched case against former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, a case in which the judge held the Justice Department lawyers in contempt and ordered an independent investigation into prosecutorial misconduct.
National Security Archive also pointed out the Justice Department's FOIA failures:
There were a number of positive moves by Justice, the Archive said, but these were “outweighed by backsliding in the key indicator” of increased use of the exemption in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for documents that might reveal too much of the “deliberative process” — that is, who actually advocated or opposed a policy — before it was announced. Justice used it to withhold information 1,500 times in 2011, up from 1,231 in 2010. . . . Another Justice lawyer argued at the Supreme Court last year that claims of an exemption from FOIA should be given a broad reading.
I'll add that the Justice Department is still claiming that something that doesn't exist can be classified. The Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), responding to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from GAP for the secret memo rationalizing the assassination of American Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, said:
the Office of Legal Counsel can neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of records responsive to your request . . . because the very fact of the existence or nonexistence of such records is itself classified . . .
Considering that the Obama administration has touted itself as the "most transparent in history," it seems the Justice Department hasn't gotten the message, or as Senator Grassely (R-Iowa)
told another department official that “if we’re doing the same thing after 21 / 2 years of this administration, the same as we’ve been doing for 20 years, the president’s benchmark isn’t being followed by the people he appoints.”
Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.