Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Did the Obama administration violate the law when it interfered with the BBG's statement on Iran?

Several weeks ago, I reported via the Washington Post and The Cable that the Obama administration had tried to prevent the Broadcasting Board of Governors from protesting Iran's censorship policies, specifically the jamming of radio broadcast signals from abroad.

According to e-mails from Jeff Trimble - executive director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors - to several of his staffers, the National Security Council at first didn't want Voice of America to attach its name to a statement protesting Iran's censorship of the radio airwaves if it used the word "jamming." Later, the NSC modified its position to object to the use of the term "intensified jamming."
Dan Austin, director of VOA, acknowledged that changes had been made to the statement but declined to discuss the NSC's role. He said that the U.S. government should not be interfering with the BBG's editorial content, but acknowledged that on the communications and policy side, the lines were less clear.

"If it doesn't violate the letter of the firewall, common sense dictates it violates the spirit," a BBG official told The Cable on background basis.

VOA eventually joined the statement, and Trimble declined to confirm or deny that the White House pressured him...
Apparently, the Obama administration's actions aren't sitting too well with three Republican lawmakers who question whether the NSC might have broken the law by interfering in the BBG's policy making decisions:
Sens. Jon Kyl, R-AZ, Sam Brownback, R-KS, and Tom Coburn, R-OK sent a letter (pdf) Tuesday to BBG President Jeff Trimble demanding a full accounting of the actions of the NSC and the State Department in dealing with the BBG before it eventually issued the statement, which criticized Iran for its jamming of international satellites.

"If true, these actions constitute serious violations of U.S law, policy, and tradition related to the editorial independence of the taxpayer-funded Broadcasting Board of Governors. We believe it is important for you to address the claims made in the article," the letter stated.

"We also believe it's important for you to publicly indicate whether representatives of the administration, including officials of the National Security Council, the Executive Office of the President, or the State Department, were involved in any way in the drafting, preparation, or clearance" of the statement.

The senators demanded that Trimble identify the specific individuals who were involved in the statement, state whether anyone at State raised concerns about possible violation of the editorial "firewall" between the administration and the BBG, and detail all of the BBG's activities related to Iran since last June's election.

Several BBG nominees are pending confirmation in the Senate, the letter noted.

An NSC official..., admitted that the NSC held a series of inter-agency meetings on the issue after the BBG asked the council for advice and defended the interaction as "appropriate."
"After the BBG asked the council for advice" - yeah, right!
"The BBG approached the NSC for guidance regarding a specific request from BBC and Deutsche Welle to issue a joint statement with VOA," the official said. "The NSC then worked with State and BBG to review the content of such a statement to ensure it was both factually accurate and legally sound; the NSC endorsed the issuance of a joint statement, and a strong statement was indeed issued."
Apparently, the NSC believes that the term "intensified jamming" is neither "factually accurate" nor "legally sound" since Iran would never dream of "intensifying" it's signal-jamming policies, which is why the NSC finally acquiesced and permitted the BBG to use just the word "jamming" without the factually inaccurate, legally unsound and superfluous adjective: "intensified". Heh...

Personally, I don't believe the NSC is telling the truth, and I hope Senators Kyle, Brownback and Coburn get down to the bottom of this - but unfortunately, I don't think that will happen anytime soon.

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