Key Obama ally calls for more transparency on drones

John Podesta, who led Obama's transition team, said the president is "wrong to withhold these documents"

Published March 13, 2013 10:05PM (EDT)

There are few more valuable allies to President Obama outside the White House than the Center for American Progress and its chairman, John Podesta, who was Bill Clinton's former chief of staff and led Obama's transition team in 2008. I used to work at CAP; it's a great organization that fights for progressive values, but does so in a pragmatic way that generally involves sticking closely to the White House.

So it's notable that Podesta has taken to the Washington Post Op-Ed page to break with Obama and call on the administration to release more information about its drone program:

[T]he White House is still bobbing and weaving on whether to share with Congress the legal opinions and memorandums governing targeted killing, which include the legal justification for killing U.S. citizens without trial.

The Obama administration is wrong to withhold these documents from Congress and the American people. I say this as a former White House chief of staff who understands the instinct to keep sensitive information secret and out of public view. It is beyond dispute that some information must be closely held to protect national security and to engage in effective diplomacy, and that unauthorized disclosure can be extraordinarily harmful. But protecting technical means, human sources, operational details and intelligence methods cannot be an excuse for creating secret law to guide our institutions.

Podesta goes on to say that Obama is "ignoring the system of checks and balances that has governed our country" and "undermining the nation’s ability to be a leader on the world stage."

That's strong and brave language from someone who chooses his words carefully when criticizing the president.

It's worth noting that Podesta has a long history of advocating for more government transparency, especially when it comes to sensitive security areas. "Excessive secrecy conceals our vulnerabilities until it is too late to correct them," he wrote in 2008.

Podesta even became a bit of a hero to UFO researchers for pushing for the release of more government documents from incidents like Roswell that have sparked conspiracy theories.

By Alex Seitz-Wald

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Drones John Podesta Transparency White House