Transparency News 6/24/13


Monday, June 24, 2013 

State and Local Stories


It used to be that when it came to swearing out criminal arrest warrants, the Hampton magistrate's office had one policy for the general public and another for police officers. That is, when a member of the public came in to file a criminal complaint, they would have to write out that complaint on paper. But when a police officer came in, they could in most cases simply make the complaint orally. The arrest warrant would simply say that this particular person was charged with committing this particular crime on this particular date on a particular other person. But the actual facts about what happened were often not included. But a couple years ago, Newport News Chief Magistrate Valla Olliver became the chief magistrate over both Newport News and Hampton, in a cost-cutting move. And in Newport News, the practice had long been that police officers and the general public alike had to write down the complaints on paper.
Daily Press

An Arlington executive who masterminded a scheme to win lucrative government work meant for small, minority-owned businesses was sentenced Friday to six years in prison. Keith Hedman, 53, was “at the top of the hierarchy” in a ring of businessmen who defrauded the government for more than a decade, federal prosecutors said in court papers. Hedman, they said, conceived a scheme that netted him and others more than $31 million in government contracts, and he personally pocketed more than $1.5 million.
Washington Post

Federal authorities are asking Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s associates about previously undisclosed gifts given by a campaign donor to McDonnell’s wife that total tens of thousands of dollars and include money and expensive designer clothing, according to people familiar with the inquiry. The questions are part of broad federal and state investigations into gifts to the governor and his family and whether McDonnell (R) took official action on behalf of anyone who gave gifts, people with knowledge of the investigation have said.
Washington Post

The Justice Department used a secret search warrant to obtain the entire contents of a Gmail account used by a former WikiLeaks volunteer in Iceland, according to court records released to the volunteer this week. The search warrant was issued under seal on October 14, 2011 by the Alexandria, Virginia federal judge overseeing the WikiLeaks grand jury investigation there. The warrant ordered Google to turn over “the contents of all e-mails associated with the account, including stored or preserved copies of e-mails sent to and from the account, draft e-mails, deleted e-mails [...] the source and destination addresses associated with each e-mail, the date and time at which each e-mail was sent, and the size and length of each e-mail.” The warrant also ordered Google not to disclose the search to anyone.

National Stories

A former journalist and assistant district attorney has been named director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition and Sunshine Center. Jonathan D. Jones was named director Friday by the Elon University School of Communications, which houses the organization. The Open Government Coalition and the Sunshine Center use outreach and advocacy to promote access to government and transparency.
Greensboro News-Record

The federal Freedom of Information Act provides that government agency records are open to the public. Access can provide insight into such things as how taxpayer money is spent and what correspondence reveals about relationships between Congress and government agencies or between the agencies and private parties. However, this flow of information can be limited by nine exemptions, including those for national security, privacy and law enforcement reasons.
Investigative Reporting Workshop

A Freedom of Information Act request from The Atlantic Wire for the military records of Edward Snowden was "withheld in its entirety" by the Department of the Army. Despite the public value of better understanding the NSA leaker's first stint as a government employee, the Army exercised a legal exemption allowing it to reserve information that could "reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings." Experts question that decision.
The Atlantic Wire

In a city beset by leaks, the Supreme Court’s rulings remain stubbornly opaque until they are handed out (on paper, first) by the court’s public relations staff.
New York Times

The Pentagon has granted many exceptions, possibly numbering in the thousands, to allow staff members who administer secure computer networks to use flash drives and other portable storage devices, department spokesmen say. The exceptions to policies barring the use of such devices could make it easier for rogue employees to remove sensitive documents.

A divided federal appeals court Friday upheld the conviction of a blogger for threatening three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Two Second Circuit judges said the evidence at trial was sufficient to prove that Harold Turner committed a "true threat" of violence when he issued a blog post saying that Seventh Circuit Judges Frank Easterbrook, William Bauer and Richard Posner deserved to die when they upheld a Chicago gun ban, finding the Second Amendment does not apply to the states. Second Circuit Judge Debra Ann Livingston and Eastern District Judge Brian Cogan, sitting by designation, said the evidence at Turner's trial in Brooklyn federal court was "more than sufficient" to meet each of the elements for threatening a federal judge under 18 U.S.C. §115(a)(1)(B) and that "Turner's conduct was unprotected by the First Amendment."
New York Law Journal

While the legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown wrangle over whether the state should continue to foot the bill for local governing bodies to comply with the Public Records Act, here's a little known fact: Since 2002, when a court ruled that California is responsible for such reimbursements, the state has not paid out any money to comply with the ruling.  

What was going on in Maine government when no one was watching? You can see legislators take votes or hear the governor make a speech, but many other actions aren’t easily seen. Votes and vetoes and new laws get nearly all the attention, but they shouldn’t. As they say the devil is in the details. With laws, the reality is in the regulations.
Bangor Daily News


Matt Hamblen, Computer World: Edward Snowden is being called both a traitor and hero for leaking classified details about U.S. surveillance programs.   The discussion about his enemy-or-hero status took on new meaning for me last night when I heard a true American hero speak at a Society of Professional Journalists banquet at the University of Richmond in Virginia. This hero is Dick Hammerstrom, an editor at The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., who has been working for more than two decades to keep courts and government meetings open to public view.

Roger Chesley, Virginian-Pilot: Here's the thing about government officials who pick fights with news outlets, including The Virginian-Pilot: The honchos invariably draw more attention to themselves than they did before they tried to shut out the media. And their fit of pique may reveal - to a much wider audience - major shortcomings in leadership. Take Gov. Paul LePage of Maine. His administration decreed this week it would no longer comment for stories in several newspapers owned by MaineToday Media. [Officials] can choose to clam up. But they won't be able to give their viewpoints on issues to tens of thousands of readers. We'll continue to report the news. Or in my case, offer opinions. Public officials, such as Maine's governor, should realize that. After all, secretiveness usually brings more scrutiny - not less.

John Whitehead, Daily Progress: There’s a reason George Orwell’s 1984 is a predominant theme in my new book, “A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.” It’s the same reason Orwell’s dystopian thriller about a futuristic surveillance society has skyrocketed to the top of book charts in the wake of recent revelations by former CIA employee and National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that the nefarious spy agency is collecting the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers, with the complete blessing of the Obama administration. Orwell understood what many Americans, caught up in their partisan flag-waving, are still struggling to come to terms with: There is no such thing as a government organized for the good of the people. Even the best intentions among those in government inevitably give way to the desire to maintain power and control at all costs.

Chicago Sun Times: ‘You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” An adage that’s certainly true in some cases but not, unfortunately, in the watchdog business in Illinois. Sometimes saying “pretty please” to government officials gets you zip. So organizations like the Better Government Association have to brandish a swatter to get the accountability we’re entitled to from the officials who spend our tax dollars. And that’s where the courts come in.

Los Angeles Times: Even as he condemned Edward Snowden's leaks about two government surveillance programs, President Obama said he welcomed the debate about whether post-9/11 efforts to detect terrorist plots have undermined Americans' privacy. That debate has raged since the Guardian and the Washington Post published material provided by Snowden, and two things are clear: • The American public and many members of Congress were unaware of the scope of the government's electronic surveillance programs, which include a continuous and indiscriminate collection of the phone records of virtually every American, and extensive monitoring of foreigners' emails and social media accounts. • Congress, the courts and the executive branch need to recalibrate the balance between liberty and security. The broad outlines of that new terrorism surveillance policy should be a matter of public record.