Head-In-Sand Approach: White House Bans Current & Former Intelligence Staff From Discussing Any Media Leaks

from the that'll-work dept

The Obama administration continues to make incredibly ridiculous decisions in response to the whole Snowden thing. A few weeks ago, we wrote about new rules from James Clapper that banned intelligence community employees from interacting with anyone who was a reporter (or who just had a social media account) without first getting approval. And the latest is that Clapper has issued a new “instruction” which effectively bars all intelligence community employees (and contractors) from even referring to public news reports about any leaks. It appears that any current or former intelligence community official mentioning any of the reporting about Snowden’s leaks without first getting permission may run afoul of these rules.

In the past, we’ve criticized the government’s “head-in-sand” approach to dealing with leaked information. Back in 2010, we pointed out how idiotic it was for the Pentagon to tell all Defense Department employees that they weren’t allowed to visit Wikileaks to see the State Department cables that were being littered all over the press. Similarly, after the Snowden revelations, the Defense Department blocked access to the Guardian’s webiste, where the original documents were first posted. Similarly, Congressional staffers were told not to look at the Snowden documents — and if they happened to see one accidentally, they had to call security “for assistance.”

The thinking behind this approach is that those documents are technically classified, and if you don’t have the proper clearance, you shouldn’t have them on a government computer. And, yes, I do understand the complications it causes for government employees who have very strict rules about dealing with classified documents, and how it gets a bit trickier when classified documents are leaked publicly — but at some point you have to sit back and realize the end result is preposterous and there are better ways to deal with it. In the business world, it’s fairly standard for non-disclosure agreements to have a clause that says you’re allowed to discuss the information you learned if it becomes public via other means. This is perfectly sensible. The intent is to try to block the initial disclosure. But once it’s out there, it makes no sense to bar the discussion of it.

And while (as described above), it’s always been the case that government officials were barred from making use of leaked classified documents, this new “instruction” expands things in two ridiculous ways. First, it appears to apply to former intelligence community employees in addition to current ones. And, second, it says they can’t even refer to the news coverage of those leaks — which has long been a way that people could refer to known leaks without referencing the leaked documents directly.

ODNI personnel must not use sourcing that comes from known leaks, or unauthorized disclosures of sensitive information. The use of such information in a publication can confirm the validity of an unauthorized disclosure and cause further harm to national security. ODNI personnel are not authorized to use anonymous sourcing.

The NY Times quotes a former White House intelligence employee, noting that this restriction is almost certainly a First Amendment violation:

Timothy H. Edgar, a visiting professor at Brown University who worked at the intelligence office and the White House from 2006 to 2013, said it was appropriate to block former officials from disclosing classified information and confirming leaks.

But, he said, it went too far to retroactively block former officials from citing news reports in the public domain, as long as they did so neutrally and did not confirm them as factually correct. That would amount to a prior restraint on former officials’ First Amendment rights that they did not consent to, he said.

“You’re basically saying people can’t talk about what everyone in the country is talking about,” he said. “I think that is awkward and overly broad in terms of restricting speech.”

Once again, beyond making a continued mockery of “the most transparent administration in history” claims, these rules just make no sense at all. Yes, Clapper and Obama don’t want someone “confirming” what’s in a leaked document, but to date there have hardly been many issues with anyone worrying about the legitimacy of leaked documents. Maybe this is part of a new idiotic strategy by Clapper to call into question the validity of future leaked documents from Snowden and from others.

Either way, barring intelligence employees (current and former) from even discussing clearly public information is the epitome of a head-in-sand approach in which denying reality seems like a better strategy than living in reality. I don’t know about you, but I want a government that is willing to actually face up to the world we live in, rather than sticking its fingers in its ears and shouting “la la la — I can’t hear you.” That doesn’t seem like a sensible plan by any “intelligence” community.

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Comments on “Head-In-Sand Approach: White House Bans Current & Former Intelligence Staff From Discussing Any Media Leaks”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Wait, what?

Was any of what you agreed to & signed described in the Presidential oath listed below?

Where was the “loyalty” of your position emphasized? In a political party, a person or We the People?

?I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.?

Anonymous Coward says:

I disagree with their approach, but I see a weird logic to it

Top officials have repeatedly tried to imply that the reports are inaccurate, regardless of whether the report is actually accurate. If we assume that they will continue this trend and that they think people actually fall for it when they refer to the report as “misrepresenting the NSA’s activities”, then they may think that having anyone in the field refer to the report in any context that does not immediately disparage the report, its authors, and their family tree, may be seen as conferring legitimacy on the report. Viewed in that light, it is only logical for them to try to restrain all unapproved references. Such a worldview is predicated on some terrible assumptions, but bad assumptions don’t seem to have any effect on these people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I disagree with their approach, but I see a weird logic to it

Why is the “media” swallowing the “reports are inaccurate” line/dong?

Why are they not asking ANY questions about this WH?

Jill Abramson – (Executive Editor of the New York Times)
“I would say it is the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering, and that includes ? I spent 22 years of my career in Washington and covered presidents from President Reagan on up through now, and I was Washington bureau chief of the Times during George W. Bush’s first term,” Abramson told Al Jazeera America in an interview that will air on Sunday.
“I dealt directly with the Bush White House when they had concerns that stories we were about to run put the national security under threat. But, you know, they were not pursuing criminal leak investigations,” she continued. “The Obama administration has had seven criminal leak investigations. That is more than twice the number of any previous administration in our history. It’s on a scale never seen before. This is the most secretive White House that, at least as a journalist, I have ever dealt with.”


That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: I disagree with their approach, but I see a weird logic to it

Because if they do anything to rock the boat, ask even the simplest questions that a politicians doesn’t have a read made answer to, they’d quickly find all those ‘exclusive interviews’ and ‘exclusive access’ passes drying up.

They play at being ‘independent reporting agencies’, but really, these days the major ‘news’ agencies are little more than the government’s PR department, and all because they’re too cowardly to call the government out when it lies and/or gets caught doing so, in fear of losing all the little ‘perks’ good little PR employees get.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I disagree with their approach, but I see a weird logic to it

To make it even worse, it has been claimed that some or all of the documents are false, as they did in relation to the leaked diplomatic cables. However, if the documents are falsified by Snowden or the journalists, they’re not classified.

Anonymous Coward says:

“I want a government that is willing to actually face up to the world we live in”

It’s not about discussing information in the public domain, it’s about constructing history. Those in the bubble are afraid of an unofficial version of events.

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past” – Orwell

p.s. I don’t think it matters what you want, we’re way past that.

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