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.

Filed Under: classified information, ed snowden, free speech, james clapper, leaks, prior restraint


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  1. icon
    art guerrilla (profile), 9 May 2014 @ 10:54am

    Re: Wait, what?

    motherfuckin' EAGLES, bitchez ! ! !

    didn't you see the EAGLES ? ? ?
    'nuff said...

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