While there have been some occasional nutty attempts
to paint journalists reporting on the documents that Ed Snowden revealed as being somehow legally at risk for doing so, for the most part, US officials have recognized that we do respect the freedom of the press in this country. This has been in stark contrast to the UK, where a whole investigation
is ongoing into The Guardian's role in reporting on the documents. However, that changed this morning, when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee to deliver his "Worldwide Threat Assessment."
In his prepared statement, Clapper made it clear that he views the journalists who have copies of the documents as "accomplices" to Snowden -- who has been charged with violating the Espionage Act. As he said:
Snowden claims that he's won and that his mission is accomplished. If that is so, I call on him and his accomplices to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents that have not yet been exposed to prevent even more damage to U.S. security.
While some may claim that this is just a passing phrase, this is a written statement from James Clapper to Congress, meaning it was vetted many, many, many times, and the word choices are clear and specific. As Glenn Greenwald has noted, the implication is not at all subtle. The Obama administration has now officially stated that it views journalists reporting on Snowden documents as "accomplices" to a crime
Who, in the view of the Obama administration, are Snowden's "accomplices" The FBI and other official investigators have been very clear with the media that there is no evidence whatsoever that Snowden had any help in copying and removing documents from the NSA.
Here, Clapper is referring to "accomplices" as those who can "facilitate the return of the remaining" documents. As Snowden has said, the only ones to whom he has given those documents are the journalists with whom he has worked. As has been publicly reported, the journalists who are in possession of thousands of Snowden documents include myself, Laura Poitras, Barton Gellman/The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Guardian, and ProPublica.
Is it now the official view of the Obama administration that these journalists and media outlets are "accomplices" in what they regard as Snowden's crimes? If so, that is a rather stunning and extremist statement. Is there any other possible interpretation of Clapper's remarks?
That is absolutely crazy. Even more ridiculous is that ODNI's public affair director more or less confirmed the point
The office's public affairs director Shawn Turner said in an email that “director Clapper was referring to anyone who is assisting Snowden to further threaten our national security through the unauthorized disclosure of stolen documents related to lawful foreign intelligence collection programs.”
Of course, just last year (prior to the Snowden leaks), there was a bit of a scandal when it was revealed that the DOJ was claiming to courts that certain journalists were accomplices
in order to spy on them to get access to their sources. That controversy resulted in Attorney General Eric Holder promising new guidelines
to stop targeting journalists. And, just today
, Holder told Congress
that those new rules are already in effect.
Clapper's choice of words here was deliberate. Even if the government doesn't go after any of the journalists with Snowden's documents, the message today's statement made is loud and clear: we can go after you and charge you criminally
. And that's an incredibly chilling message in a country that is supposed to respect the freedom of the press.