US Officials Have No Problem Leaking Classified Surveillance Information… As Long As It Fits Their Narrative

from the hyprocisy-in-action dept

In the past few days there have been a flurry of stories about the Russian plane that crashed in the Sinai peninsula, which investigators reportedly think may have been caused by a bomb. Notably, anonymous US officials have been leaking to journalists that they believe ISIS is involved, and it’s actually a perfect illustration of the rank hypocrisy of the US government’s position on the Edward Snowden disclosures.

Why do US officials allegedly have a “feeling” that ISIS was involved? According to multiple reports, US intelligence agencies have been intercepting ISIS communications discussing “something big” in the region last week.

CNN published a report on Tuesday based on anonymous sources that ISIS was likely responsible despite the fact that “no formal conclusion has been reached by the U.S. intelligence community and that U.S. officials haven’t seen forensic evidence from the crash investigation”:

The signs pointing to ISIS, another U.S. official said, are partially based on monitoring of internal messages of the terrorist group. Those messages are separate from public ISIS claims of responsibility, that official said.

Huh, weren’t we told by Snowden’s critics that it was terrible and traitorous when sources tell journalists that the US has surveillance capabilities that, in addition to collecting information on millions of innocent people, also target alleged terrorists?

Just today, the Daily Beast reported this:

The U.S. intelligence community intercepted a signal from an ISIS-affiliated group in the Sinai Peninsula before a Russian jet crashed there on Saturday that warned of “something big in the area,” two officials told The Daily Beast. An adviser familiar the U.S. intelligence said a call was made between members of Wilayat Sinai, which a U.S. official said Thursday was one of the “most potent” branches of ISIS. The conversation did not mention downing an airplane, but a defense official said comments could be tied to the crash. (emphasis mine)

Here the leak is even more specific: the little-known name of the subgroup targeted by surveillance (Wilayat Sinai), including their general location (Sinai) and the time of the interception (sometime before the crash).

And just in case anyone wants to pretend that every other surveillance capability of US intelligence is classified but somehow this investigation is not, the New York Times clarified in their article on Wednesday:

“There’s not one thing that we know what is saying to us, ‘This is a bomb,’ ” said one of the American officials, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing intelligence considered preliminary and classified. “It’s just all indications of this or that, and not clear right now.” (emphasis mine)

So many people criticized Edward Snowden for allegedly leaking information showing that the US targeted suspected terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen with their surveillance capabilities. Keep in mind, Snowden did not publish any of this information himself; it was the decision of major newspapers that found the information was newsworthy. It was also vague information that was months or years old, and in the vast majority of cases not the focal point of the stories — which was the information collected on millions of innocent people at the same time.

In this case, US officials have no problem at all leaking classified information about top secret surveillance capabilities which target terrorists, since it fits within their narrative. It’s also more specific information that’s more timely, involving an investigation that is still ongoing. Even the most virulent commentators who claim that Snowden was a traitor for leaking classified information had no problem publishing similarly leaked information about this potential terrorist attack.

We can almost be certain that there will be no leak investigation and no one will be punished — despite the fact that by the government’s own interpretation of the law, this is clearly illegal. (Not that we believe anyone should be prosecuted for leaking, but if the US is going to prosecute, they should do so uniformly and not cherry-pick who they want.)

This has happened over and over since the Snowden revelations started and we can only assume it’ll happen again. That’s because the US government’s policy on leaks has never really been about enforcing the law, or that leaks are so damaging to national security. It’s about controlling the story the media tells.

Reposted from the Freedom of the Press Foundation

Filed Under: , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “US Officials Have No Problem Leaking Classified Surveillance Information… As Long As It Fits Their Narrative”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
gezzer (profile) says:

Time to get rid of the bumbs ! !

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security,”
Thomas Jefferson wrote this in the Declaration of Independence .

Unaccountable power is absolute power, & is absolutely corrupt !

So VOTE just don’t vote for a Democrat or Republican, send them a message they can’t ignore and will understand ! ! ! They are the problem not the solution !

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Time to get rid of the bumbs ! !

Um, sorry, but it is likely that these leaks were by bureaucrat’s and we don-t elect them. Even if we replaced all of Congress as well as the President we would still be stuck with those. It would take some massive firings in the Federal government to get rid of them, and like a forrest fire that could be a good thing (so long as it does not also burn down the house, but why are they living in the woods?). Where are we going to find 536 people (435+100+1) with that kind of chutzpah?

Some might argue that institutional memory is important. I say it is most of, or at least a great deal of the problem.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Simple really

It’s really not that hard to understand.

If a leak makes the government look good, no matter how sensitive, valuable or classified the information is, it’s a ‘Good leak’, and acceptable.

If a leak makes the government look bad, no matter how sensitive, valuable or classified the information is, it’s a ‘Bad leak’, and unacceptable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Even the most virulent commentators who claim that Snowden was a traitor for leaking classified information had no problem publishing similarly leaked information about this potential terrorist attack.

On an unrelated note, I’m still puzzled why journalists and news organizations are all giving up on having comment sections connected to their stories.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

So when they leak, it is always a good thing.
When other leak, it is always a bad thing.

Yet the law makes no distinction about good leaks vs bad leaks. Given the amount of meta-data they have access to it should be easy to identify those people who violated their oaths and punish them to the fullest extent of the law as they demand for others who have done the same thing.

If they do not investigate these leaks (which we know they will not) they really need to just admit the law is only to be used against those that make them look bad. Many other people can see this clearly and need to make more noise about it. This isn’t a red or blue thing, this is something showing the hubris and rot inside the system. They place themselves and their friends above the law, and this is not how a healthy nation operates.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Prioritizing secrecy

Well, you’ve got to understand our surveillance priorities in order to have a clear view of this.

Priority for terrorists: Meh. The group that leaked doesn’t exist anymore, it was disbanded for protocol violations. Plus, no foreign terrorist is ever going to sue NSA in court for surveillance; foreigners have no standing. So it’s no big deal if we prove the worth of our surveillance by once in a while dropping names.

On the other hand, revelations about surveillance of U.S. citizens is a priority concern. First off the bat, we have all these radical elements in the citizen population; especially the (eek) commies…oops, I mean liberals. They must be watched. The problem is that citizens have standing to sue: if they find out they’re being watched, OMG! Well, they just can’t find out, that’s it.

Terrorists, who cares about leaks, leaks are good for our image; U. S. citizens, talk about us watching them and we’ll hang you from the yardarm…TRAITOR!

voiceofReason (profile) says:

Ummm....that's the point

It’s truly amazing how little one sees and understands when one wears anti government blinders.

Um…that’s the whole point. It is the government’s classified information. It has the right to disclose (your pejorative “leak”) any of its information for its own political purposes whenever it damn well feels like doing so. Its ITS information. Just because it can, and does, so, does not mean that unauthorized leaks by Snowdon become ok.

I have the right to publish my mental health diagnosis. That does not create a right by my psychologist, whom I hired to treat me, to do so.

Is this not beyond obvious?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Ummm....that's the point

But the government didn’t disclose this. The information did not go through official channels, it was not cleared or authorized by them, and the government does not stand by it. Officially they haven’t said anything of substance on the matter and they could still deny or distance themselves the leaks if they wanted to.

It was leaked by people who remained anonymous exactly because it wasn’t done with proper procedure and released through official channels, and thus is exactly as illegal as the things Snowden is being condemned for.

Maybe you should actually read something before commenting on it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Ummm....that's the point

However, by their own logic, said leaking is ‘traitorous’ if it isn’t done properly. And our law isn’t set up to examine ‘good/bad’ image relations, it’s set up on a “you did X, which is against law Y” basis… Willingly turning a blind eye to it is… questionable at best.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Ummm....that's the point

The government has to go through the process of declassifying it first. If they don’t, then we might as well let judges reinterpret or disregard laws at whim, let cops decide what to enforce and when to enforce it, and generally let every government organization operate independently and under its own internal rules without any oversight at all.

We’re not supposed to be ruled over by feudal lords. Expecting consistency from people elected and appointed to operate within a system of coherent, consistent laws isn’t anti-government. It’s anti-corruption.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Ummm....that's the point

If they don’t, then we might as well let judges reinterpret or disregard laws at whim, let cops decide what to enforce and when to enforce it, and generally let every government organization operate independently and under its own internal rules without any oversight at all.

How would that be different?

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Ummm....that's the point

Methinks you have that just a tad bass-ackwards, mister voice.

If you look at your example, you can see that it was you who hired the psychologist, and that the information about your mental health is yours, not his.

You seem to forget that it was We the People who hired the federal government, and that the information they withhold from us, for whatever reason, is still the property of the citizenry, not of those who We the People employed to maintain the security of the nation and our own well being.

The government has no more right to disclose classified information – information pertinent to the safety of the American people – than your psychologist has to disclose your mental instability diagnosis – information pertinent to your well being.

The fact that you feel government to be an entity unto itself without responsibility to the people it was hired by, or for the job it was hired to do, says a great deal about your fascist beliefs and utter lack of humanity.

Anonymous Coward says:


A big point is missing here. Much –if not most– of what the government tells the press has historically been lies, distortions, propaganda and whatever else these deceptions of truth can be called.

One way to control the population is with brute force, but an even more effective way to control people is by lying to them. This is what governments specialize in. And when leaders claim to get their information from a hidden power that can neither be seen nor questioned nor verified — whether a God or a spy agency — we can be sure there are plenty of lies being spread around.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; as far as I’m concerned, that means all of you. I’ve never seen a more worthless bunch of fat fucks. You sicken me, and I hope you all die horrible, painful deaths covered in festering pox and gnawed by rats. Dine you all on a gunny sack overflowing with silent flutes.

As stirring as ever, Mr. Paine. Much appreciated.

Whoever says:

Because it's 100% fiction?

I don’t believe this. There is no law banning the “leaking” of false information.

It’s just more justification for the war on terror.

Remember the “bombs hidden in printers” incident? The UK authorities went over the cargo and found nothing. The US then came in and suddenly the bombs were found? I never believed that either.

The key question we should be asking is, what’s the point of all the money spent on spying, the loss of privacy, the intrusion into people’s lives if they cannot prevent such incidents?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Because it's 100% fiction?

“There is no law banning the “leaking” of false information”

There may be a law that addresses bypass of official governmental policies and procedures.

” what’s the point … if they cannot prevent such incidents?”

It is apparent their motivations are elsewhere. It seems that turmoil serves their agenda so why would they attempt to stop it?

McFortner (profile) says:

We are surprised why?

C’mon, this is basic human behavior. EVERYBODY releases what they want known and holds back what embarrasses them. Just ask anybody who has been through a divorce. You’re a saint and everybody else are a-holes. A government agency run by people is going to be no different.

I’m not saying it is right, just that we shouldn’t be so surprised when this happens.

Anonymous Coward says:

Everyone is forgetting one very important detail here. Most of the legal situation surrounding surveillance programs is based on secret decisions made by the FISA court. As such, there’s no way of knowing whether or not “leaking” classified data about the surveillance program is actually a crime, ie. whether broad exceptions have been made to support “beneficial” leaks, or the justice department granted clear discretion on the issue of who to prosecute. It is, in fact, perfectly possible that leaking classified information about surveillance programs is only illegal if your name is Edward Snowden. Unlikely, but one of the quirks of secret legal decisions.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Whether or not the government goes after someone leaking information (whether it is for the government’s fun and profit, or if it is whistle-blowing (protected!lol, as if) and exposing corruption and illegal activity) has zero to do with the legality of said leak.

Never mind we already have cases of numerous insiders and “former” insiders leaking information (for sex, or books, or whatever), which is totes cool, because it wasn’t their intent to expose bullshit. But every single case of someone openly leaking to the public, when they have nothing to gain and everything to lose, is a national security issue, completely illegal, and performed by traitors of the first order.

I really don’t think there is much in the way of nuance here. Secret laws, secret interpretations, and secret courts are already wrong, and their secret trash is pretty much irrelevant to the conversation.

rrstubbs (profile) says:

The planes destruction was likely headed toward a massive cover up by the Egyptian Tourist Industry and Russian manipulation. The technology revealed was only information kept from the American public. Satellite technology to read heat signatures has been around for several decades. It served its purpose and Russia has requested the US FBI to analyze the wreckage. The bodies of the victims have already been returned to Russia where shrapnel wounds were discovered. No secret was revealed in this episode so calm down and watch the Russian reaction.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...