State Dept: Most official email not auto-archived until Feb.

14 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Ask why Hillary Clinton used a private address. But also ask why federal archiving rules are so woefully insufficient..

Sunshine Week, created by journalists to highlight “the public’s right to know what its government is doing,” and why, starts Sunday. The presumptive presidential candidate and email deleter—whose apparent reluctance to release public records and documents prompted the Associated Press to sue the State Department this week—is by no means unique in her wish to starve the insatiable media, or at least restrict ravenous reporters to a bland diet of happy news.

It is hard to call her barely legal use of her personal email account to conduct government business a “scandal,” since she so resolutely refuses to sound scandalized by it.Earlier this week, as I watched Hillary Clinton vainly trying to answer a media frenzy of questions about her private e-mail account, I found myself battling two impulses that I hadn’t felt since Bill Clinton was in the White House — annoyance that something so insignificant was being turned into an affair of state and exasperation that “oh, we’re doing this again.” In the more than four decades years since “the mother of all presidential scandals,” Watergate, virtually every presidential administration has been immersed in a major political scandal. It has been the desire of politicians and government agencies through history to manipulate the Fourth Estate into publishing their press releases and ignoring their missteps and scandals. Yet even supporters of her expected presidential bid must ask themselves: How would they feel if Dick Cheney, as vice president, mixed his government and personal emails in a personal account on a personal at-home Internet server?

Not solely because Hillary Clinton’s handling of the email mess shows she might benefit from being challenged, but also because there are real differences among Democrats that would benefit from an airing. On Tuesday, the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state used a United Nations backdrop to face an international press corps eager to hear her comment on the controversy surrounding the use of personal e-mail while she was America’s top diplomat. Technological advances, meanwhile, have cut both ways, allowing not only instantaneous public distribution of official government spin but also massive leaks of political and national security secrets, digitally downloaded from cyberspace. “The basic narrative [of the latest Clinton controversy] is consistent with what we have seen from the Pentagon Papers through Watergate to the fundamental tension between the media and the political establishment,” said Frank Sesno, director of George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs and former Washington bureau chief of CNN. “It centers on secrecy and any suggestion of a cover-up. Carter had corruption charges launched against Bert Lance, his director of the Office of Management and Budget, and allegations that his chief of staff snorted cocaine at Studio 54. Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, who has been talking about challenging Hillary Clinton from the left, has given an interview to Salon’s Joan Walsh that provides a preliminary glimpse into what such an intra-Dem debate might look like.

Still, I can’t help but feel that the strange details about yoga routines, personal servers, and the forensic analysis of classified data packets are distractions. Worse, if Clinton has nothing to hide or even feel embarrassed about, why did she avoid facing reporters about the bubbling “emailgate” or “servergate,” as some called it, for more than a week? This is a legitimate scandal and an important debate, but it’s also a limited one: If we really feel all federal employees’ communications need to be archived as a matter of the public interest, we need to be talking about a lot more than email. For instance, O’Malley comes out for expanding Social Security (Obama has flirted with cutting it), arguing: “Right now we’re facing a looming retirement crisis in our country. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and leader on national security issues, admonished her on “Meet the Press” to “step up and come out and state exactly what the situation is …

There was the savings and loan debacle and of course, the Iran-Contra affair, which led to the appointment of a congressional committee to investigate, which led to criminal indictments and consumed much of Reagan’s second term. They’re also issued BlackBerries because of the long-standing viewpoint of the federal government that the devices offer the best high-level security for email and instant messaging.

It’s disappointing that Clinton’s clouded judgment led her to ignore an October 2009 regulation from the National Archives and Records Administration that, according to the New York Times, stated that agencies where workers were able to use private e-mail “must ensure that federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate record-keeping system.” Clinton didn’t. More and more people are going to be relying solely on Social Security.” Some high profile Democrats, such as Warren, have endorsed this idea, which would be funded by lifting the cap so higher earners pay more into the system, while re-indexing for inflation to boost benefits. When a staffer uses her state.gov email, she needs to use an approved government computer, which requires special passcodes and software, or she must tackle the cumbersome interface of her government-issued BlackBerry. This is insane!’” Dalglish recalled. “And they started going into their song and dance. ‘We’re the most transparent White House in history!’ ‘We post things on Facebook!’ ‘You don’t want us to have Facebook.

And power needs to be checked by the press, among other institutions, said Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, a journalism educational organization. “We live in a system where in general people in power often do their best to keep secrets that the public should know about, and it’s the job of journalists in their watchdog role to shine a light in those dark corners,” Clark said. “I think in a highly polarized political culture that openness and transparency are more important than ever. Legal experts, politicians, and journalists can certainly parse what constitutes an official email and whether the personal email server Clinton used was appropriate given her position. Every time a government official tries to conduct public business in the shadows, you can count on the fact that there is no noble intent behind it.” These shadows may have obscured “stories that should have been told,” Wonderlich said.

Servergate itself resulted from disclosures uncovered by the Republican-led House investigation of the attack on an American compound in Benghazi, Libya. To be sure, most of the Clinton scandals were inflated nonsense, but then again when you’re getting sexual favors from an intern in the Oval Office, you’re definitely breaking new scandal ground. And yet, while Clinton was at State, staffers—not just hers, but employees throughout the federal government—were conducting official business on the go, because like employees in every modern workplace, they increasingly rely on mobile phones to do their duties. Citizens deserve to know, and journalists are certainly still interested, as evidenced by an Associated Press (AP) lawsuit filed a day after Clinton’s news conference.

This goal has also been championed by Warren, on the grounds that it could minimize the risks to the financial system posed by Wall Street “high stakes gambling.” O’Malley mocks fellow Democrats for “supporting Dodd Frank lite,” suggesting that they are mostly doing so because “we have monied interests tying Congress in knots,” an apparent effort to speak to Democratic voters who believe their party is too beholden to Wall Street. They might write emails on their work phones or use BlackBerry Messenger, but other times and for reasons of convenience—perhaps it was easier to type with one hand while walking, or it had better cell coverage in a particular area—government staff and leaders almost certainly used their personal devices.

The original Glass-Steagall, of course, was repealed under a president also named Clinton, which is one of the reasons many claim Hillary Clinton is “too cozy with Wall Street.” I’m a bit skeptical of that claim, but there are plainly differences among core Democratic constituencies over how far to go in regulating Wall Street, and a debate on this topic would be helpful and clarifying for Democratic voters. Yet her penchant for hardball fits with remarkable ease in the uncivil atmosphere of polarized Washington — an incivility that surged memorably with Republican attacks on her husband’s presidency.

The Obama administration will soon announce a rules change raising the threshold, and some liberal economists expect him to set it lower than he might. Today we have President Barack Obama dodging Republican obstructionism with unilateral executive actions to redefine immigrant residency status and negotiate an Iran nuclear proliferation agreement, which doesn’t require Senate approval.

This is not a small matter: Going big on overtime pay might be the single most dramatic thing a Democratic president might do unilaterally to help the middle class — and if a Dem is elected in 2016, he or she will face a GOP House. Then there’s the possible nuclear deal with Iran, a topic on which Clinton has been vague, and the argument over the proper parameters of the conflict with ISIS, a topic on which Obama and many Democrats disagree. Yes, there is a lot of consensus among Democrats on the broad economic strokes: Higher taxes on capital gains and inherited wealth to fund middle class tax relief.

Clark called the entire episode disappointing. “When you think about a public servant whose record is as admirable as Hillary Clinton’s, you want to think that they would prosper in an environment of open government and transparency. Carney remembers the encounter somewhat differently. “I’ve never said, and do not believe, that official photos are journalistically equivalent to photos take by independent photo journalists,” he emailed The Daily Beast. “What I did say, and believe, is that official photos have value, and that it’s a good thing to give the public access to them.” The former White House press secretary acknowledged, however, that technology has inevitably placed the administration’s PR juggernaut in direct competition with news outlets. “There were issues of access, which was something we could address and improve,” he emailed. “And there were issues of distribution, which were more difficult. Back in the 1980s, say, the official White House photographers took photos, decided which ones to distribute, developed them and then physically handed them out in the press room. It isn’t hyperbole to say there are probably a few hundred thousand text messages being exchanged among government officers, elected officials, and staff each and every day—many of which will escape the net of federal archiving requirements. The wires, the papers and the networks got to decide which, if any, the public would get to see.” Carney continued: “The Internet has changed that.

Not one special prosecutor has been appointed and the only congressional committee established to investigate supposed Obama misdeeds, the Benghazi select committee, has basically fizzled out, particularly after the House Intelligence Committee concluded the administration had done nothing wrong. Is the government’s mobile carrier permanently archiving all BlackBerry Messenger and other text messages sent to, from, and among staff, agency heads, and elected officials? But as Jonathan Bernstein has explained, even if Clinton’s nomination appears close to inevitable, there really are a number of serious Democrats out there, and even the effort to compel a contested primary might help the party: It’s good for the party to have competition, because it gives party actors leverage over the candidates, and therefore helps force the nominee, if elected, to be loyal to the party as president. But it doesn’t replace independent photography, and neither I nor anyone I worked with believed that it should or could.” Photography aside, however, Dalglish listed a series of new limits demonstrating that the Obama administration’s relationship with the media is even more restrictive—arguably paranoid—than that of George W. Clarence Page, a member of the Tribune Editorial Board, blogs at chicagotribune.com/pagespage. “Culture Worrier,” a collection of his best columns, is available in print and at chicagotribune.com/ebooks.

But not as difficult as the real-time organization of that data so that later, someone could search and retrieve an archived text and a particular subject and still know who sent it. Even if the government were to archive all texts sent from nongovernment devices, could the law even apply to messages sent from personal devices to journalists, constituents, and, say, yoga teachers? That Obama has so far been able to avoid the same pitfalls as his predecessors — in light of such strong organized opposition from Republicans — may be the most remarkable aspect of his presidency. The central clearing house of U.S. diplomacy—which takes an average of 450 days to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request, according to a 2012 inspector general’s report—is by far the worst performer of any government agency.

She said it’s possible that after negotiations with the Justice Department’s civil division there could be arguments before a federal judge, and some of the requested documents could be forthcoming within a few months. At which point, Hillary Clinton—likely to be in smack-dab in the middle of her campaign for the Democratic nomination—will either be facing a pesky new scandal or a collective media yawn. We should be worried that the officials charged with setting policy about how we track and archive digital communications don’t actually use email themselves. How can our elected officials on either side of the aisle possibly have a meaningful dialogue about how our government preserves its history digitally when they’re still using typewriters?

Beyond archiving emails, it would need to track all text messages, conversations from chat clients, and anything else that might emerge in the future, like messages sent over wearable devices. Here’s the other, more practical choice: The kinds of conversations we’d want to review and archive—the juicy stuff—are happening in real life, far away from email. And who know that anything too broad won’t be meaningful, too narrow won’t be enforceable, and too restrictive will just lead us back to the same debate a few years from now.

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