Hillary's Nightmare: FOIA Meets the Internet
Perhaps the most interesting development in this most interesting of presidential election seasons has been the convergence of the power of the Freedom of Information Act with the power of the Internet. The impact of these conjoined forces may well determine the political fate of one of our presidential candidates.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was signed into law, fittingly, on July 4, 1966. This piece of legislation, which has been amended and strengthened numerous times since its inception, is a testament to that unique "American exceptionalism" of which Barack Obama was so famously dismissive at a NATO summit meeting in February 2009. (Who can forget “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”?) FOIA truly embodies the spirit of Lincoln's immortal description of America representing "government of the people, by the people, for the people." It requires our government to be accountable to its citizens by allowing anyone to demand that the records of its operations be produced to those very citizens.
The Internet -- that other great product of American exceptionalism -- allows for the immediate dissemination of thousands of pages of raw documents to millions of people simultaneously. That immense set of eyes belongs to individuals with expertise in a wide array of fields, like medicine, national security, and forensic accounting (not to mention ethics).
Therein lies a problem for Hillary Clinton.
Never before in the history of American politics have the American people, with all their varied talent and knowledge, had the ability they now wield to scrutinize a presidential candidate with a long history in the political system and government employment by reviewing reams of their daily communications, calendars and other records generated in their careers. This capability exposes Mrs. Clinton's vulnerabilities on three fronts: her health, her reckless attitude toward national security information, and her degree of corruption arguably on a scale unprecedented for an American political figure.
To take one example in the first category, consider the new information that is coming to light about Hillary Clinton's health. While her ardent supporters and campaign flacks try to dismiss concerns being raised about this topic as the fevered imaginings of right-wing haters, newly released emails obtained through FOIA are adding pieces to a puzzle forming a very troubling picture. An email obtained through FOIA by Judicial Watch, for instance, revealed top Clinton aide Huma Abedin instructing a subordinate to be sure to repeat to Secretary Clinton the names of foreign dignitaries with whom she was to speak the next day because, Ms. Abedin explained, Mrs. Clinton is "often confused." This is a very disconcerting revelation by Hillary's "body woman" -- the person most intimately knowledgeable of Mrs. Clinton among her courtiers. As Dr. Jane Orient, the Executive Director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, told Breitbart News, that observation along with other evidence, such as reports of falls taken by Mrs. Clinton, photos of Mrs. Clinton being physically supported by aides, and her use of prism eyeglasses, typically used to correct double vision, during her Benghazi testimony all potentially point to a very serious medical issue which should compel her to release all of her medical records to American voters before Election Day.
Considering Mrs. Clinton's second vulnerability, her treatment of national security information, records obtained by Judicial Watch through FOIA requests and litigation revealed an extraordinarily blasé attitude on the part of both Mrs. Clinton and her senior aides toward their oaths to protect highly sensitive, often classified, material. Examples of this cavalier attitude abound in the records Judicial Watch obtained. To cite just a few among many, Mrs. Clinton received classified documents on her unsecured email server containing information revealing the identities of U.S. personnel operating in intelligence capacities in foreign countries. Other records obtained through FOIA by Judicial Watch revealed Huma Abedin leaving Secretary Clinton’s presumably sensitive daily planning book on top of her bed in Ms. Abedin’s unlocked hotel room in a Caribbean country while she was off attending meetings. Ultimately, of course, the FBI investigated the egregiously lax operational security of Mrs. Clinton and her aides, and chose not to recommend prosecution, but that investigation itself would not have been initiated had Judicial Watch not obtained, again through FOIA, the infamous Ben Rhodes “talking points email,” which forced Congress into forming the Benghazi select committee, ultimately leading to the discovery of Mrs. Clinton’s secret email network.
Finally, the Freedom of Information Act has been decidedly critical in exposing for the American people the breathtaking pay-for-play schemes of the Clinton Foundation, working in concert with the State Department while Mrs. Clinton was at its helm. Revelations of the special access granted to the secretary of state for large donors to the Clinton Foundation are coming fast and furious (to coin a phrase). Large contributors such as Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain, Slimfast founder S. Daniel Abraham, and sports entertainment mogul Casey Wasserman were all granted expedited attention of one sort or another, which we know, again, from records obtained by Judicial Watch. Thankfully others, such as the Associated Press, are now doing their own fine reporting through the use of FOIA on the Clintons’ massive corruption, revealing the remarkable number of donors to the Clinton Foundation who had unrivalled access to the secretary of state. Similarly, excellent investigative work by Citizens United revealed top State Department official Cheryl Mills, whose phone logs Citizens United obtained through FOIA, essentially moonlighting for the Clinton Foundation.
The beauty of FOIA in enabling ordinary American citizens to obtain records from the government while being able to share those records with countless other individuals seamlessly via the Internet has opened up a new dimension in representative democracy. Medical doctors can glean insights from observations by aides of presidential candidates. Could John F. Kennedy’s drug addiction or Woodrow Wilson’s near-infirmity following his strokes while in office been concealed had FOIA and the Internet been existent in those eras? Those of us familiar with government classification systems can now see up close how blatantly our most senior foreign diplomat and her aides routinely violated the most basic regulations and laws relating to the protection of national security information. Financial analysts (and everyone else) can connect the dots between donations made to the secretary of state’s family foundation and privileges granted to those very same donors by the powerful government department she led, based on casual conversations in email exchanges, which are government records.
In short, the combination of FOIA and the Internet allows for the unprecedented, virtually instantaneous, scrutiny of huge numbers of government records in a way never envisioned just a few short years ago. It has resulted in the crowd-sourcing of intelligence analysis.
Our Founders, if their spirits are still observing us, must be overjoyed at this convergence of technology and the legally codified requirement for the government to furnish the records it generates to the people it represents. It is the quintessential tool of informed self-government.
William F. Marshall has been an intelligence analyst and investigator in the government and private sector for 30 years. He is presently a Senior Investigator for Judicial Watch, Inc. (The views expressed are the author’s alone, and not necessarily those of Judicial Watch.)