“There’s classified, and then there’s classified,” President Barack Obama recently told Fox News anchor Chris Wallace in response to a question about the now-classified material on Hillary Clinton’s private email server from when she was Secretary of State.
“There’s stuff that is really top-secret Top Secret," Obama continued, “and there’s stuff that is being presented to the president or the secretary of state that you might not want on the transom, or going out over the wire, but is basically stuff that you could get in open-source.”
Freedom of the Press Foundation director Trevor Timm writes that in that Fox interview, President Obama basically admitted what's been obvious for a long time: The information classification system the U.S. government uses is a secrecy sinkhole.
From Trevor's Columbia Journalism Review op-ed:
What makes Obama’s statement so infuriating rather than refreshing is that advocacy groups and news organizations often make the exact argument in court that Obama made on television—that material considered “classified” is actually not that secret at all. Yet time and again they’re met by intringent resistance from the Obama administration’s Justice Department. The DOJ has convinced judges to rarely, if ever, even entertain the notion that the government has improperly classified something—even when it’s obvious. And the agency is actively fighting FOIA reform legislation that would give judges more latitude to do just that.
The record number of sources and whistleblowers who have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act during the Obama administration have also tried unsuccessfully to make the argument that what they revealed to journalists should have never been classified or wasn’t a secret at all. The Justice Department has continually convinced judges this information should be inadmissible and juries should never hear it; lives of whistleblowers have been ruined and sources of reporters languish in jail because of the Justice Department’s position.
As secrecy expert Steven Aftergood put it this week: Obama “failed to grapple with the fact that a bunch of people in his administration have been caught up in a meat-grinder as a result of classification policy.”