US Secrecy, Classification Procedures Increase Under Obama

In 2012, the government rejected more FOIA requests than at any time since Obama took office

by John Glaser, March 11, 2013

The US government in 2012 rejected public requests for documents more often than at any time since President Barack Obama took office, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

SecrecyLed by the Pentagon and the CIA, the government fully censored or withheld on national security grounds files requested through the Freedom of Information Act more than one third of the time.

“The administration cited exceptions built into the law to avoid turning over materials more than 479,000 times, a roughly 22 percent increase over the previous year,” The Associated Press reports.

“The government cited national security to withhold information at least 5,223 times – a jump over 4,243 such cases in 2011 and 3,805 cases in Obama’s first year in office. The secretive CIA last year became even more secretive: Nearly 60 percent of 3,586 requests for files were withheld or censored for that reason last year, compared with 49 percent a year earlier.”

As the government denies more and more FOIA requests, agencies are making more and more information secret to begin with.

According to Information Security Oversight Office, the Executive Branch alone made 92,064,862 classifications decisions in 2011. These are called “derivative classifications,” meaning that the decision to keep documents secret is made not by trained intelligence professionals but by various other government officials up the security clearance food chain.

In a Congressional Research Service report written last year by legislative attorney Jennifer K. Elsea, she concluded “there is little to stop agency heads and other high-ranking officials from releasing classified information to persons without a security clearance when it is seen as suiting government needs.”

In an environment of successive whistleblowers, the Obama administration has driven the conduct of the Executive Branch underground. The government spent more than $11 billion dollars in 2011 just on keeping secrets from the American public (compared with $4.7 billion in 2001).

“We’ve seen a meteoric rise in the number of claims to protect secret law, the government’s interpretations of laws or its understanding of its own authority,” Alexander Abdo of the ACLU told the AP. “In some ways, the Obama administration is actually even more aggressive on secrecy than the Bush administration.”

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