Some of US President Barack Obama’s high-ranked political appointees are using secret government email accounts, which they say are necessary to prevent their inboxes from being overwhelmed with unwanted messages and spam.
The scale of secret email use across the government remains
unknown, as most US agencies have failed to provide lists of
political appointees’ email addresses, which AP requested under
the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) over three months ago.
The news agency asked for the addresses after it was revealed
last year that a former administrator of the Environmental
Protection Agency had used separate email accounts during her
work, including a secret one under the name ‘Richard
The secret accounts raise suspicions that government officials
are trying to hide their actions or decisions from the general
public, AP wrote in its report. They also complicate an agency’s
legal responsibilities to find and turn over emails in response
to relevant requests — an employees assigned to fulfill such
requests may not know of a secret account’s existence.
“What happens when that person doesn’t work there anymore? He
leaves and someone makes a request [to review emails] in two
years,” Kel McClanahan, executive director of government
transparency watchdog National Security Counselors told AP.
“Who’s going to know to search the other accounts? You would
hope that agencies doing this would keep a list of aliases in a
desk drawer, but you know that isn’t happening.”
The agencies revealed to have used secret addresses, including
the Labor Department and Health and Human Services, explained
that maintaining non-public email accounts allows senior
officials to separate their internal messages with agency
employees from emails they exchange with the public. They also
assured that, as with public emails, non-public accounts are
always searched in response to official requests, and records are
provided as necessary.
According to AP, at least three senior officials at Health and
Human Services have secret accounts, including Secretary Kathleen
Despite objections from the government, AP revealed Sebelius’
non-public address — KGS2(at)hhs.gov — due to the secretary being
a high-ranking civil servant who oversees the implementation of
Obama’s signature healthcare law.
The Labor Department initially asked AP to pay over $1 million to
cover the costs of recovering the requested data, contradicting
the agency’s own rules that prohibit it from charging news
Labor Department spokesperson Carl Fillichio later apologized and
provided journalists with email addresses for the agency’s
Senate-confirmed appointees, including the secret addresses for
Acting Secretary Seth D. Harris — harris.sd(at)dol.gov.
Ten US government agencies have not yet turned over lists of
their email addresses to AP, saying they are still working on a
response. These include the Environmental Protection Agency, the
Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs, Transportation,
Treasury, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Homeland
Security, Commerce and Agriculture.
Aaron Mackey, an FOIA attorney with the Reporters Committee for
Freedom of the Press, stated that “an email address given to
an individual by the government to conduct official business is
not private,” and cannot be labeled confidential
The Freedom of Information Act allows both US citizens and
foreigners to compel the government to turn over copies of
federal records for free, as long as the disclosure does not
threaten national security, violate personal privacy or expose
In his first week in office, President Obama pledged to make the
US government more open and transparent, saying in a memo to his
Cabinet that the nation’s signature open-records law would be
“administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt,
This article originally appeared on: RT