We had a few laughs yesterday when it was discovered that the phony Environmental Protection Agency employee created by disgraced administrator Lisa Jackson to conceal some of her email correspondence was treated like a real person by the bureaucracy, winning awards for his job performance and ethical conduct.
But today we have an Associated Press report that is no laughing matter, because it turns out the use of secret email addresses to skirt federal records law is a widespread practice among the Most Transparent Administration In History:
Some of President Barack Obama’s political appointees, including the Cabinet secretary for the Health and Human Services Department, 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.
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.
Oh, they just want to keep their inboxes clean, do they? These tech-savvy disciples of our hip Internet-era President – beloved by a generation of young people who grew up in a sea of social media – have never heard of spam filters, labeling, priority inboxes, etc? Their huge armies of assistants can’t help them set those things up?
If only Ambassador Chris Stevens had known one of Hillary Clinton’s special regime email addresses! Then he could have bypassed her overflowing State Department inbox to tell her about the dangerous security situation in Benghazi and request more protection!
The true purpose of these secret email addresses is blatantly obvious, coming as it does from a scandal-plagued Administration where top figures – including the President himself – routinely claim they’re out of the loop:
The secret email accounts complicate an agency’s legal responsibilities to find and turn over emails in response to congressional or internal investigations, civil lawsuits or public records requests because employees assigned to compile such responses would necessarily need to know about the accounts to search them. Secret accounts also drive perceptions that government officials are trying to hide actions or decisions.
“What happens when that person doesn’t work there anymore? He leaves and someone makes a request (to review emails) in two years,” said Kel McClanahan, executive director of National Security Counselors, an open government group. “Who’s going to know to search the other accounts? You would hope that agencies doing this would keep a list of aliases in a desk drawer, but you know that isn’t happening.”
Remember, the only reason Attorney General Eric Holder wasn’t convicted of perjury in the Fast and Furious outrage is that he claimed he never reads his email, and has no idea what his subordinates are doing. A network of secret, untraceable email addresses is just the thing for preserving that kind of deniability. And of course, this secret correspondence is flying around an Administration that has proven very eager to snoop on the emails of people like reporter James Rosen of Fox News.
Another scandal defense commonly offered by top Obama Administration officials is that nobody talks to anyone else – there’s no coordination between various agencies, even when they’re supposed to be working under an operation like the Department of Homeland Security, which was specifically created to foster efficient inter-agency communication. Well, maybe one reason for that poor communication is that nobody’s reading their official, public email. They think everything important will be coming into those special concealed inboxes, but they have so many alternate addresses that they can’t keep them all straight.
The Administration claimed these secret email accounts “are always searched in response to official requests and the records are provided as necessary,” but the AP knocked that lie down immediately:
The AP couldn’t independently verify the practice. It searched hundreds of pages of government emails previously released under the open records law and found only one instance of a published email with a secret address: an email from Labor Department spokesman Carl Fillichio to 34 coworkers in 2010 was turned over to an advocacy group, Americans for Limited Government. It included as one recipient the non-public address for Seth D. Harris, currently the acting labor secretary, who maintains at least three separate email accounts.
Google can’t find any reference on the Internet to the secret address for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Congressional oversight committees told the AP they were unfamiliar with the non-public government addresses identified so far by the AP.
The Obama regime handled the Associated Press inquiry with its customary level of honesty and efficiency:
Ten agencies have not yet turned over lists of email addresses, including the Environmental Protection Agency; the Pentagon; and the departments of Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Treasury, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Homeland Security, Commerce and Agriculture. All have said they are working on a response to the AP.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz declined to comment.
A Treasury Department spokeswoman, Marissa Hopkins Secreto, referred inquiries to the agency’s FOIA office, which said its technology department was still searching for the email addresses. Other departments, including Homeland Security, did not respond to questions from the AP about the delays of nearly three months. The Pentagon said it may have an answer by later this summer.
The Health and Human Services Department initially turned over to the AP the email addresses for roughly 240 appointees – except none of the email accounts for Sebelius, even one for her already published on its website. After the AP objected, it turned over three of Sebelius’ email addresses, including a secret one. It asked the AP not to publish the address, which it said she used to conduct day-to-day business at the department. Most of the 240 political appointees at HHS appeared to be using only public government accounts.
OK, let me see if I have this right: the Administration says all this secret email correspondence is routinely searched in response to FOIA requests… but their IT nerds can’t even cough up a list of alternate email addresses after three months of effort? The reason Labor tried to charge the AP a million bucks for that list of email addresses – even though its FOIA rules prevent it from charging such fees – is that it would have to “pull 2,236 computer backup tapes from its archives and pay 50 people to pore over old records. Labor said it would take three weeks just to find these tapes, and 14 weeks to find all the emails. But these same bureaucrats claim they scan all the secret email correspondence every time anyone files a FOIA request for anything.
I have an idea: instead of paying a huge team of technicians to pull thousands of backup tapes, why don’t we just compel the President and his top people to hand over their digital address books? A lot of them know each other’s secret email addresses, right?
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius – currently under investigation for leaning on the health insurance companies she regulates for extra ObamaCare cash – turns out to have at least three email addresses, including a secret one. Her department comically tried to hide one of the other addresses from the AP inquiry, even though it was published on the HHS website. Then they asked the AP not to publish the secret address, but they did it anyway.
We know former EPA Administration Lisa Jackson was using her secret email address to communicate with special interests – namely the environmentalist groups that hate being referred to as “special interests,” a term they believe should be reserved for their political adversaries. Was Sebelius also using secret channels to make corrupt arrangements with special interests? How about the rest of Obama’s team at the agency that became the most powerful bureaucracy on the planet, thanks to ObamaCare? We may never know, because the FOIA director for the agency claims there are “no mechanisms in place to determine if such requests for the creation of secondary email accounts were submitted by the approximately 242 political appointees within HHS.”
Say, does everyone remember liberals have a nuclear meltdown over Sarah Palin’s emails? Remember how the media crowd-sourced a gigantic fishing expedition through her correspondence when she released it? What do you think about the Obama Administration’s huge network of secret email addresses and untraceable correspondence, guys? I’ll understand if you want to avoid the question. Maybe you could change the subject by running another series of White House-coordinated stories about how the Republicans are “overreaching” by making a big deal about all these scandals.