Lost in the blizzard of scandals over the past week are news stories describing a network of secret email accounts used by Obama administration officials to conduct business. The practice allows officials to conceal their official tracks. However the administration contends that maintaining secret email accounts under aliases was simply an understandable convenience.
Some of President Barack Obama’s political appointees, including the secretary for Health and Human Services, are using secret government email accounts they say are necessary to prevent their inboxes from being overwhelmed with unwanted messages, according to a review by The Associated Press.
“That’s a very reasonable thing to do,” according to Jay Carney. The extent of this practice is still unknown.
The scope of using the secret accounts across government remains a mystery: Most U.S. agencies have failed to turn over lists of political appointees’ email addresses, which the AP sought under the Freedom of Information Act more than three months ago. The Labor Department initially asked the AP to pay more than $1 million for its email addresses.
The AP asked for the addresses following last year’s disclosures that the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency had used separate email accounts at work. The practice is separate from officials who use personal, non-government email accounts for work, which generally is discouraged – but often happens anyway – due to laws requiring that most federal records be preserved.
It’s hard not to think that business was conducted along two channels. The first was the official or ‘noise channel’ to which “unwanted messages” — to use their own phrase — was directed. The public channel was for the rubes and for the benefit of anyone who was listening to the open source stuff. And then there was the second secret channel were the good stuff got sent and received. The place you didn’t want to clutter with “unwanted messages”.
The existence of a second channel between the administration and the press was unearthed in 2007. JournoList (sometimes referred to as the J-List) was a private Google Groups forum for discussing politics and the news media with 400 ‘left-leaning’ journalists, academics and others. One of the things they discussed — privately of course so as not to be inundated with unwanted noise — was how to shut down Fox News.
Jonathan Zasloff, a law professor at UCLA, suggested that the federal government simply yank Fox off the air. “I hate to open this can of worms,” he wrote, “but is there any reason why the FCC couldn’t simply pull their broadcasting permit once it expires?”
Of course we are assured the Journolist exchanges were nothing but innocent banter. We would be churlish to doubt that. Still, readers who grew up reading Vietnam era memoirs will recall all those heart stopping moments in the narrative when the intrepid recon team finds comm wires running all over the jungle floor.
Finding these secret email accounts under opened under aliases, given what is now known about the IRS to name but one, is almost like finding comm wires heading off in every direction. Where do they go? Is there for example, a circuit between the IRS and journalists? And do any of these comm wires lead into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?
Finding comm wires actually happened when 506th was approaching Hamburger Hill. “Everyone knew that something big going on. Hoping to draw off NVA fighting the 187th, Bravo Company was ordered to set up blocking positions to the west of Hamburger Hill. While there, they found communications wire an inch thick running into the hill. The men knew the NVA were well dug in and fortified, and had no intention of going anywhere.”
Back in those innocent days people thought that when you found stuff like that it usually meant something bad was going to happen and soon. How foolish of them. Too bad the old Vietnam grunts are not as sophisticated as we are now. We could have told them those wires were laid so that people could wish each other good night and recommend good restaurants to friends.
But if you were the paranoid sort of guy, you might come to the conclusion that the minions of the Obama administration were dug deep and wired in. That they weren’t planning on going anywhere, not willingly at least. And whatever they say to the contrary take anything you hear on the noise channel with a grain of salt. It’s what it is in the second channel that counts.