This week’s WikiLeaks’ dump included a cable reporting on the visit to Honduras by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, (R-Calif.) earlier this year. And the New York Times jumped on it. (Private Links in Lawmaker’s Trip Abroad)
Overall it was a good story and it showed what happens when members of Congress travel abroad. (And I have met a lot of Congressional Delegations — Codels — in my time as a Foreign Service spouse. Some of the Codels are clearly pleasure junkets and others — a vast majority — involve real work.)
But what I was wondering is why there are not more reports about what members of the House and Senate are up to when they travel overseas on the taxpayer dollar. One would think that local news organizations would be anxious to get as much information about what the elected officials really did while traveling at taxpayers’ expense.
Sure you get a few notes about overseas’ trips from folks like Al Kamen at the Washington Post. But often his comments are glib and snarky. (And often deserved.) Rarely are there reports about a trip and — more importantly — the trip’s aftermath.
And this includes overseas’ trade missions led by governors, mayors or county executives.
The funny thing is that the cables written by the embassy staff are not that secret. I looked at the Rohrabacher cable and most of it was classified SBU — the lowest form of classification. One paragraph was marked “Confidential” and that is why the whole cable had that designation.
What I found out from a couple of quick calls was that the SBU portion is not secret but it is not for “public distribution.” And it is subject to Freedom of Information requests.
Any reporter interested in the aftermath of an international trip by a local member of Congress could request the State Department cable about the trip. (And a cable is ALWAYS done after a Codel visit.) A reporter who has developed a relationship with someone at the State Department might be able to get a peek at the cable — and not violate any serious secrecy rules.
Why is this necessary?
If a reporter were to ask the press office of an embassy or the State Department about the congressional visit, all that reporter would get would be the itinerary of the visit. And then the reporter would be referred to the appropriate Congressional office for more details.
As if a congressman’s office is going to say: “Oh yeah. While in country X we totally told the government there that they shouldn’t listen to the State Department or president.”
Or: “The congressman made sure his business buddies were part of his delegation at every meeting that could be of financial benefit to them and the congressman’s family.”
That stuff often comes out in an after-action cable from the embassy. And that is stuff LOCAL people need to know about their local officials.
The reports can also help explain why the Codels are important. (And I do believe that most are vital to helping the lawmakers understand the complexities of global affairs.)
Either way it is a win-win for the local news organization. If it would only have the interest in getting the information.