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 last year to enhance government secrecy and keep the public in the dark.
The agency’s actions “seem in practical rebellion against President Obama’s 2009 open-government orders,” Archive director Tom Blanton said.
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.
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.
(Well, maybe they’re deliberating more these days?)
The Archive also cited what it called a “pit bull” department attorney (isn’t this usually a compliment?) for doggedly pursuing a CIA whistle-blower and New York Times reporter James Risen.
Another Justice lawyer last year argued at the Supreme Court that claims of an exemption from FOIA should be given a broad reading.
Justice Antonin Scalia noted that the high court’s prior opinions “assert, do they not, that exceptions to FOIA should be narrowly construed?”
“We do not embrace that principle,” the lawyer replied.
And Sen.Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), at a hearing, told another department official that “if we’re doing the same thing after two and a half 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.”
The Archive cited “other worthy finalists,” such as the U.S. Central Command, which “took an unclassified report, reported by the Wall Street Journal” about Afghan army soldiers attacking U.S. troops, and “classified the document at the SECRET level (serious damage to national security).
This drew even more attention to the report, the Archive said, which stayed on the internet in its original, unclassified form.
The award, a framed photo of the wondrous Woods Stretch, will be sent to Attorney General Eric Holder and other individual department winners.