Transparency Troubles: Secrecy concerns mount for Obama in 2nd term

Secret courts. Secret emails. Phone surveillance. Drones. The list of cloak-and-dagger tactics employed by the Obama administration — and those that preceded it — keeps growing, as NSA leaker Ed Snowden feeds classified materials to the media and other reports show the extent of the U.S. government’s more opaque dealings. 

The latest was a report by The Associated Press that said the administration had military files about the Navy SEAL raid on Usama bin Laden’s hideout transferred to the CIA, where they would be harder to uncover by the press and public.  

If this were any other administration, perhaps the fallout would be minimal. But President Obama ran on a message of open government. When he was sworn into office in 2009, he declared his presidency would be “the most open and transparent in history.” 

Now in his second term, those claims have been challenged by a host of revelations — from controversies over secret mails to the steady drip of information about NSA surveillance. FoxNews.com takes a look at six controversies that have clouded the transparency message. 

  1. Secret Emails

Arizona Sen. John McCain is still trying to get answers out of the Obama administration on why several of the president’s political appointees were caught using supposedly secret government email accounts to conduct official business. 

“Four years ago you pledged to usher in a new era of government transparency,” McCain wrote in a June 17 letter to Obama. “Since then, however, your administration has habitually circumvented congressional oversight.” 

McCain’s letter follows an investigation by The Associated Press that showed several of Obama’s high-level political appointees have been using private emails to do business. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, are just two of the federal officials who maintained private email accounts. 

When asked about the account, Sebelius denied it was “secret.” 

“There’s a public email and a private email,” she said, adding that anyone could formally request to have access to the information. 

Sebelius said she needed a second account to deal with the influx of messages which sometimes reached 28,000. Administration officials defended the use of secondary accounts and said they are needed to keep their primary inboxes from overflowing. But others remain concerned that top-level government officials could hide sensitive information in the accounts that might go unchecked in FOIA requests.

  1. Surveillance Nation

When former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden told The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers that the NSA could use its online data-mining system to monitor people without a warrant, several lawmakers spoke out on the practice that to many crossed a privacy line. 

President Obama went on PBS and said he encouraged public debate on the balance between privacy and national security but critics say his words, and his administration’s actions just don’t jibe.  

During a rare appearance on Capitol Hill in June, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander said the two programs disclosed by Snowden – one that gathers U.S. phone records and another designed to track Internet servers – were crucial in the fight against terrorism.  

Alexander, also head of U.S. Cyber Command, said the government’s sweeping surveillance programs have helped thwart dozens of terrorist plots, including one on New York City’s subway system. Alexander’s testimony marked the first time an NSA official answered to Congress following the news that the agency was collecting phone records and Internet content.

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