Champ of the info lockdown

Al Kamen
Columnist March 14, 2013

In the category of dubious achievements, the Justice Department is now a back-to-back winner of the Rosemary Award, an annual distinction given by the National Security Archive for eight years now to a public agency whose performance on transparency and openness is downright dismal.

Congrats, or something, to the DOJ (as our colleagues at the Fix say to the winners of their Worst Week in Washington)!

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

To merit the award, Justice obstructed and cloaked its doings in secrecy, the Archive says, much like the award’s namesake, Rose Mary Woods , secretary to President Richard Nixon. Woods famously erased a crucial 18 minutes of White House tapes (an innocent mistake, she claimed, that happened accidentally when she stretched to answer a phone call).

Justice sewed up the competitive award just this week with its performance at a Senate hearing in which an official refused to answer questions about litigation that could undermine an open-government law Congress adopted in 2007 to speed up requests from the public filed under the Freedom of Information Act.

And Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy may have tipped the scales in the Rosemary sweepstakes when he got in this zing chiding Justice for slow-walking its rewrite of its own FOIA policies to comply with the 2007 law:


A 1973 photo of Rose Mary Woods, President Nixon’s secretary, demonstrating the movement which could have resulted in the erasure of part of the Watergate tapes. The National Security Archive named its Rosemary Award for poor performance in openness and transparency after her. (AP Photo/AP)

“It’s been five years since we changed the law,” Leahy said. “It took me less time to get through law school.”

Our fan in Cuba

A Loop Fan wrote recently with an interesting question. Unable to write directly, he sent the letter via his attorney, Carlos Warner.

Seems our reader, one Muhammad Rahim, has to use that circuitous route for correspondence because he’s a guest of the federal government at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

His question: “Does Obama read ‘In the Loop?’ ”

A most interesting question, Mr. Rahim, but we’re thinking it isn’t likely. On the other hand, some of his staff members probably read the column, judging from the occasionally abusive phone calls.

Rahim, a prolific and rambling correspondent, was said to be a former translator for Osama bin Laden and allegedly helped him escape from Afghanistan in 2001. He was captured in Pakistan in 2007, apparently by local authorities.

U.S. intelligence and defense officials call him a “tough, seasoned jihadist.”

But he’s also apparently a news junkie. He’s been in Gitmo for about six years and is one of the last prisoners to be sent there, but he’s managed to keep up with U.S. affairs.

In his latest letter, dated Feb.13 and stamped “unclassified,” he discourses about Obama’s “pathetic, ineffectual” gun-control efforts and notes that “if he has time to fill out a bracket for ‘March Madness’, he should have time to meet” with Warner.

Kerry’s hang-ups

Seems the John Kerry transition at the State Department is proceeding at a slow but steady pace — at least in terms of wall art.

When the new secretary was confirmed six week ago, there were 30 or so framed photos hanging in a hallway outside the public affairs offices on the second floor.

Up until about three weeks ago, most all of them were of former secretary Hillary Clinton and her senior staff members, traveling, speaking and so on.

But now she’s vanished from this gallery, replaced largely by photos of senior State Department officials. There don’t appear to be any photos of Clinton anywhere in the display. (There was one farther down the hallway, though.)

Some of the photos now in this section, such as one with Deputy Secretary Bill Burns, don’t identify the others in the shot. One from 2011 of Luis CdeBaca , the ambassador at large to monitor and combat trafficking in persons, says he’s meeting with “other officials.”

The “other officials” in this case include Cabinet members and other top officials — former defense secretary Bob Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, former labor secretary Hilda Solis and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, plus FBI Director Bob Mueller and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

Hold on! The woman sitting directly across from CdeBaca looks very much like . . . wait . . . yes, Clinton herself! And she’s the one who opened the meeting, spoke and introduced the other Cabinet folks, who also spoke.

So far, there are only five photos featuring Kerry in the gallery. All of them were taken during his first couple of days on the job. One shows him holding aloft his old childhood passport, the one he used as the son of a Foreign Service officer posted to Berlin in the 1950s.

Some lovely shots from his recent jaunt through Europe and the Middle East — perhaps the tower in Paris, the pyramids outside Cairo? — will no doubt grace the corridor walls shortly.

A caretaker at USTR

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk’s last day in the office was Thursday. Last we checked, he was headed back home to Dallas and the private sector. Kirk’s deputy, Demetrios Marantis , is taking over as acting trade rep, though it doesn’t appear he’s a candidate to take over the top spot.

Marantis was chief international trade counsel on the Senate Finance Committee before moving over to USTR in 2009. Before that he also served as issues director on the Kerry 2004 presidential campaign.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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