"I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules â¿¿ a veritable Catch-22," the judge wrote. "I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret."
The AP could not determine whether the administration was abusing the national security exemption or whether the public was asking for more documents about sensitive subjects. Nearly half the Pentagon's 2,390 denials last year under that clause came from its National Security Agency, which monitors Internet traffic and phone calls worldwide.
"FOIA is an imperfect law, and I don't think that's changed over the last four years since Obama took office," said Alexander Abdo, an ACLU staff attorney for its national security project. "We've seen a meteoric rise in the number of claims to protect secret law, the government's interpretations of laws or its understanding of its own authority. In some ways, the Obama administration is actually even more aggressive on secrecy than the Bush administration."
The Obama administration also more frequently invoked the law's "deliberative process" exception to withhold records describing decision-making behind the scenes. Obama had directed agencies to use it less often, but the number of such cases had surged after his first year in office to more than 71,000. After back-to-back years when figures steadily declined, as agencies followed the president's instructions, the government cited that reason 66,353 times last year to keep records or parts of records secret.Even as the Obama administration continued increasing its efforts answering FOIA requests, people submitted more than 590,000 requests for information in fiscal 2012 â¿¿ an increase of less than 1 percent over the previous year. Including leftover requests from previous years, the government responded to more requests than ever in 2012 â¿¿ more than 603,000 â¿¿ a 5 percent increase for the second consecutive year.