Former Intelligence Officials Break Clapper's Media Gag Order To Complain About Clapper's Media Gag Order

from the security-through-obtusity dept

James Clapper's order forbidding both current and former employees from discussing almost anything with the media has raised more questions than it's answered. It appears to have been written as a response to the Snowden leaks (as well as various unnamed officials' responses to those leaks), but its restrictiveness does nothing to prevent document leaking and has created a whole lot of confusion.

To begin with, the very definition of media/press is impossible to pin down. According to the original order, anything from major networks to officials' own social media accounts were off limits. A clarification issued shortly thereafter offered nearly nothing in the way of clearing things up.

Now, former officials -- the same ones who have been forbidden from discussing almost everything without prior approval -- are offering up plenty of discussion on the policy itself, assuredly without prior approval. Shane Harris at Foreign Policy has collected a great deal of irritated statements from former intelligence officials who have a ton of problems with Clapper's gag order.

One former intelligence official who now works in the private sector said he declined five recent requests to discuss national security issues on television news shows because he was afraid of having his security clearance revoked or being fined for breaking the rules. Ironically, the former official said, he only learned about new restrictions on talking to the press from Gen. Keith Alexander, the former director of the National Security Agency, when he discussed it with comedian John Oliver for his new HBO talk show.
Much like many legislators and government officials learned of the NSA's activities from outside sources, former officials are learning more about a policy affecting their press interactions from other former officials interacting with the press.

Meanwhile, Clapper's office claims this policy has always been in place, despite the reactions that clearly indicate otherwise. It also should be noted that this "there all along" policy hasn't prevented various unnamed intelligence officials -- some of them still currently employed -- from offering their opinions on the NSA's programs over the past several months.

It also hasn't prevented former NSA head Michael Hayden from acting as the agency's biggest cheerleader, apparently appearing at any press venue that will have him.
Several sources cited Michael Hayden, the former director of the NSA and the CIA, as a prime example. Hayden writes a regular column for the Washington Times. Does that mean Hayden is now a journalist, some former officials asked? If so, are they prohibited from talking to him, too?
(The same question could be asked of Stewart Baker, the former NSA counsel who has written pieces for several venues, including regular appearances at the Volokh Conspiracy blog, now hosted by the Washington Post.)

Spokespeople for the agency claim Hayden runs everything by the agency first, but if that's true (something that seems unlikely given the number of appearances, including a live debate with NSA critics), that makes him the minority. Other former officials claim that if Clapper's going to pretend this policy isn't new, they'll just continue to route around his office, just as they did before the supposedly "not new" policy went into force.
The former intelligence official who said he first learned of the policy by watching HBO said he's reluctant to call Clapper's office because he thinks it'll only invite more scrutiny. Another said that until he hears otherwise, he will continue to clear articles through his former agency, not the ODNI. And, he predicted, his colleagues will do the same.
The policy, which "isn't new" but still comes as a surprise to many former officials, is typical of the NSA's responses over the past several months -- long on indignant righteous fury and short on substance. That this supposedly pre-existing policy needed both a clarification and a declaration that nothing has ever changed is also indicative of the agency's clumsy attempts to embrace transparency place one tentative arm a few inches above transparency's shoulder: needlessly convoluted and ultimately useless.

Filed Under: gag order, intelligence community, james clapper, reporting

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2014 @ 6:13pm

    It's already headed for the compost pile. And, according to Snowden, the best is yet to come. Should be fun!

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