February 24, 2013

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In the midst of a fairly damning conversation about the media and their ego-driven obsession with 'access' as demonstrated by the Tiger Woods nontroversy, UP with Chris Hayes got an amazing admission from former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: when he stepped into the role, he was told to not even acknowledge the existence of a drone program.

“When I went through the process of becoming press secretary, one of the first things they told me was, ‘You’re not even to acknowledge the drone program. You’re not even to discuss that it exists,” said Gibbs, now an MSNBC contributor. That policy of secrecy, Gibbs said, made it difficult to deal with reporters asking about the program. Describing one such notable exchange in 2009 with Major Garrett, then of Fox News, Gibbs said, “I would get a question like that and literally I couldn’t tell you what Major asked, because once I figured out it was about the drone program, I realize I’m not supposed to talk about it.”

Gibbs added: “Here’s what’s inherently crazy about that proposition: you’re being asked a question based on reporting of a program that exists. So you’re the official government spokesperson acting as if the entire program…pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

The Obama administration has vastly stepped up the use of drones and targeted killings of suspected terrorists in countries like Pakistan and Yemen over the past four years, even targeting American citizens, a policy that has come under intense criticism from civil liberties advocates. For most of the president’s first term the administration steadfastly refused to acknowledge the program’s existence.

Now let's be clear: the drone program did not begin with the Obama administration, nor did the official secrecy about them. But it is this denial of a program we all knew existed that actually makes things less safe for Americans and antagonizes even more into terrorist acts in retaliation.

Ana Marie Cox reels from this information, although I'm not sure why she should be so shocked. Center for American Progress President Neera Tandem acknowledges that while there was probably a reasonable justification for keeping the program classified, it does make the administration look hypocritical after posturing itself as a more transparent and more willing to live up to the ideals of America than the Bush administration. Certainly, we've seen that cynicism permeate the liberal blogosphere.

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