Structural secrecy and the automation of war

The full-court press against informing voters and the world continues, and gets worse under this president, pushed by Republicans (though it’s hard to see this as capitulation given how forceful the Obama DOJ has been from the outset). From NPR:

The WikiLeaks case is part of a much broader campaign by the Obama administration to crack down on leakers.

National security experts say they can’t remember a time when the Justice Department has pursued so many criminal cases based on leaks of government secrets.

Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists has been following five separate prosecutions, part of what he calls a tremendous surge by the Obama administration.

“For people who are concerned about freedom of the press, access to national security information, it’s a worrisome development,” says Aftergood, who writes for the blog Secrecy News.

Aftergood says some of the most important disclosures of the past decade, including abuses by the U.S. military at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, came out because people concerned about overreach blew the whistle on the government….

Aftergood says despite the burst of activity within the Justice Department, there are still calls for more action against leakers.

“As aggressive as the Obama administration has been in pursuing and prosecuting leakers, the signal that the administration is getting from Congress is, why aren’t you doing more?” he says.

At a pair of oversight hearings last week, Republicans blasted the Justice Department for deciding not to prosecute Thomas Tamm, a former government lawyer who admitted to telling the New York Times about a secret electronic surveillance program.

As for what is happening behind that veil of secrecy, we have what the CJR calls “Obama’s Secret War.”

[NY Times reporter David Rohde’s] first-hand perspectiveon the [drone] strike is rare, and the novelty of his reporting underscores the difficulties of covering this new kind of war, a remote-controlled campaign officially denied by the US government that is unfolding in a region where Pakistani officials have forbidden reporters to travel independently.Journalists are struggling under these challenging circumstances. Even those reporting safely from afar have not succeeded in digging down to basic questions about drone attacks: How are targets chosen? Under what legal authority? How successful are drones in killing enemies and sparing civilians? Are the drones helping win the war against would-be terrorists?

War reporting is one of journalism’s highest callings, and for good reason: citizens need to know if battles are successful, and what the costs are in blood and money. But it is difficult to grasp the new war that Americans are fighting in Pakistan. As described by former US officials who participated, it is conducted not by military generals but by cia officers who are guiding drones from offices in Langley, Virginia, that kill people in a country with which the US is not at war….

Jane Mayer, the New Yorker writer who published in October 2009 one of the most penetrating stories on targeted killings by drones, said the Predators were “much more than just a breakthrough in technology—they were also a new frontier legally, politically, and morally.” In an e-mail interview, she described an intricate policy behind the secrecy: “It’s not, technically speaking, something that can be done under cover. But when the CIA is asked directly and on the record about its role, it denies having one.”

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