Skip to content Skip to footer

Obama’s “No Tolerance” for Freedom of Speech Policy (or Lament for Sunshine Week)

The Obama Administration has once again earned the shameful reputation for being the most secretive and punitive administration against whistleblowers in the history of the republic.

The Obama Administration has once again earned the shameful reputation for being the most secretive and punitive administration against whistleblowers in the history of the republic. Last week, another case of the Obama Administration’s insatiable appetite for secrecy was revealed via a April 21st memo from the Director of National Intelligence. This memo threatens members of the intelligence community with retaliation for any contact with reporters without the permission of their supervisor, even if the information is not classified. The memo stated:

“IC (intelligence community) employees… must obtain authorization for contacts with the media” on intelligence-related matters, and “must also report… unplanned or unintentional contact with the media on covered matters,” the Directive stated.

This escalating repression comes on top of its harsh sentencing of whistleblowers: Chelsea (Bradley) Manning—35 years for leaking the video Wikileaks dubbed ‘Collateral Murder‘ of a deadly helicopter attack on a defenseless civilian population; 30 month imprisonment of former CIA agent John Kiriakou for exposing the US use of torture and waterboarding—while none of those responsible for the administration of torture have been tried; and forcing Edward Snowden to seek political asylum outside the US for exposing National Security Agency (NSA) excesses that include the unauthorized, universal invasion of planetary privacy.

Despite the recognition of Snowden’s whistleblowing contribution earning him the prestigious George Polk Award and Pulitzers for those reporting it, the government has ratcheted up the pressure. Perhaps the silver lining of this story is that the government is still fretting about the reserve of moral and political courage its employees demonstrate as they continue to blow the whistle on government corruption.

For those inside Washington’s secrecy circles the question remains as to what actions must be taken against the US public in general and federal government employees specifically to trigger their repentant silence. This government’s history serves as prelude to what we can expect—the escalation of retaliation against and aggressive persecution of whistleblowers, despite the propaganda issuing from the “transparent” president—no need of a Freedom of Information Act request to see through the doublespeak.

Fear remains the favored tactic used by the government against its own employees. That fear is instilled by making obscene examples of individuals for breaching secrecy oaths. At the conclusion of Mr. Kiriakou’s trial the US Attorney Neil McBride articulated the unofficial line of the US government:

“…today’s sentence should be a reminder to every individual who works for the government, who comes into the possession of closely held sensitive information regarding the national defense or the identity of a covert agent, that it is critical that that information remain secure and not spill out into the public domain or be shared with others who don’t have authorized access to it.”

This flies in the face of candidate Obama’s January 21, 2009 declaration:

“The way to make government responsible is to make it transparent so that the American people will know what decisions are being made and whether their interest are being well served…for too long there has been too much secrecy in this city… . Starting today every government agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not with those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known…I will hold myself to a new standard of openness… Transparency and openness will be the touchstone of my administration and this presidency.”

The president talks the talk, whistleblowers walk the plank—while the authors, administrators and implementers of torture and felonious activities walk—under the protection of absolute immunity. The hypocrisy could not be more apparent. The message of retribution could not be clearer. The threats, however, are not empty. The memo threatens IC employees, found to communicate with “the media” with revocation of security clearance, termination of employment or possible criminal prosecution.

Sunshine Week is celebrated every year from March 15-21st. The progressive community needs to proclaim this week as manifestly our own and use it for public exposés of government policies that hinder, obfuscate and forbid citizens from exposing political and economic corruption. The government, after all, is the number one leaker of classified secrets when it makes them look good and the grim reaper for anyone who exposes their criminality. Sunshine Week should be a tribute to whistleblowers and civil rights activists who are the true champions of freedom of speech and have shown themselves prepared to make the necessary sacrifice to defend democracy.

​​Not everyone can pay for the news. But if you can, we need your support.

Truthout is widely read among people with lower ­incomes and among young people who are mired in debt. Our site is read at public libraries, among people without internet access of their own. People print out our articles and send them to family members in prison — we receive letters from behind bars regularly thanking us for our coverage. Our stories are emailed and shared around communities, sparking grassroots mobilization.

We’re committed to keeping all Truthout articles free and available to the public. But in order to do that, we need those who can afford to contribute to our work to do so.

We’ll never require you to give, but we can ask you from the bottom of our hearts: Will you donate what you can, so we can continue providing journalism in the service of justice and truth?