According to Stephen Aftergood at Secrecy News, a new intelligence directive forbids any official from talking with the media and threatens “termination of employment” or “criminal prosecution” for any violators.
The Director of National Intelligence has forbidden most intelligence community employees from discussing “intelligence-related information” with a reporter unless they have specific authorization to do so, according to an Intelligence Community Directive that was issued last month.
“IC employees… must obtain authorization for contacts with the media” on intelligence-related matters, and “must also report… unplanned or unintentional contact with the media on covered matters,” the Directive stated.
The new Directive reflects — and escalates — tensions between the government and the press over leaks of classified information. It is intended “to mitigate risks of unauthorized disclosures of intelligence-related matters that may result from such contacts.”
…If an employee’s contact with the media involves an unauthorized disclosure of classified information, then he could be subject to criminal prosecution. But even if classified information were not communicated to the reporter, the Directive indicates, violation of the new policy “at a minimum… will be handled in the same manner as a security violation.”
“IC employees who are found to be in violation of this IC policy may be subject to administrative actions that may include revocation of security clearance or termination of employment,” the Directive states.
In the aftermath of Snowden’s leaks, this is an assertive attempt to crack down on leakers and enforce absolutely secrecy. It reminds one of the Obama administration’s government-wide crack down on talking to the media, dubbed the “Insider Threat Program.”
Even before a former U.S. intelligence contractor exposed the secret collection of Americans’ phone records, the Obama administration was pressing a government-wide crackdown on security threats that requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish those who fail to report their suspicions.
President Barack Obama’s unprecedented initiative, known as the Insider Threat Program, is sweeping in its reach. It has received scant public attention even though it extends beyond the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal departments and agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration and the Education and Agriculture departments. It emphasizes leaks of classified material, but catchall definitions of “insider threat” give agencies latitude to pursue and penalize a range of other conduct.
A report by the Committee to Protect Journalists found that Obama’s crack down has government sources “scared to death” and journalists facing a lack of information.
“The administration’s war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration,” said Leonard Downie Jr., author of the report and editor at The Washington Post at the time of the Watergate scandal. “The 30 experienced Washington journalists at a variety of news organizations whom I interviewed for this report could not remember any precedent,” he told McClatchy.
About two years remain in the Obama administration. It is reasonable to expect it will continue to hold the record for the most people prosecuted under Espionage Act, but many of the legal and procedural aspects of the Obama administration’s extreme secrecy are likely to blend into the next administration. Unfortunately, it looks like the most aggressively secret administration since Nixon is devising a new normal.