The Obama administration’s high level of opacity, though typical of modern presidencies, is troubling precisely because the president was so clear about his determination to do things differently. As recently as early last year, some open-government advocates were still hopeful, presenting Obama with an anti-secrecy award at the White House. But even then, there were signs of trouble: The award presentation wasn’t on his schedule and was closed to reporters.
By certain measures, “overall secrecy has actually increased rather than declined,” said Steven Aftergood, who runs the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. “Criminalization of unauthorized disclosures of information to the press has risen sharply, becoming a preferred tactic. Efforts to promote public accountability in controversial aspects of counterterrorism policy such as targeted killing have been blocked by threadbare, hardly credible national security secrecy claims.”
A Washington Post report from this past summer concluded that “by some measures the government is keeping more secrets than before.” Those making Freedom of Information Act requests in 2011 were less likely than in 2010 to get material from 10 of 15 Cabinet agencies, which were more likely to exploit the law’s exemptions.