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Obama Jokes Visitor Logs, Talks Leak Prosecution

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, March 30 2011

Earlier this week, open government advocates met with President Obama to talk open government in a 20-minute meeting that was off-the-record. Kidding! Project on Government Oversight executive director Danielle Brian tells of asking Obama about the prosecution of national security whistleblowers:

The President shifted in his seat and leaned forward. He said he wanted to engage on this topic because this may be where we have some differences. He said he doesn't want to protect the people who leak to the media war plans that could impact the troops. He differentiated these leaks from those whistleblowers exposing a contractor getting paid for work they are not performing. I was careful not to interrupt the President, but waited until he was done. I pointed out that few, if any, in our community would disagree with his distinction—but that in reality the current prosecutions are not of those high-level officials who regularly leak to the press to advance their policy agendas. Instead, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is prosecuting exactly the kind of whistleblower he described, for example one from the National Security Agency.

That "one" is Thomas Drake, who complained to press about waste in the NSA's cellphone and Internet monitoring projects and was indicted by the Justice Department on ten felony charges. Back to our story:

The President then did something that I think was remarkable. He said this is an incredibly difficult area and he wants to work through how to do a better job in handling it. He also agreed that too much information is classified, and asked us to work with his office on this. He wasn't defensive nor was he dismissive. It was perhaps the dream moment for an advocate—hearing the most senior policymaker agree with you and offer to work together to tackle the problem.

On the particularly technological front, Brian writes that Obama opened with a joke about "how he hoped we were all going to be listed in the White House visitor logs," posted up on WhiteHouse.gov.