The Obama administration has barred officials at 17 agencies from speaking to journalists about unclassified intelligence-related topics without permission, according to a newly disclosed directive. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/22/us/politics/intelligence-chief-issues-limits-on-press-contacts.html?ref=us
The directive, issued by James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, also requires the agencies’ employees to report any unplanned contact with journalists. Officials who violate the directive may be disciplined or fired, the directive says.
The directive prohibits unauthorized “contact with the media about intelligence-related information, including intelligence sources, methods, activities and judgments,” without regard to whether it is classified. It says that employees who violate the policy “may be subject to administrative actions that may include revocation of security clearances or termination of employment.”
“If failure to comply with this policy results in an unauthorized disclosure of classified information, referral to the Department of Justice for prosecution may occur,” it says.
At a minimum, the directive adds, any violation of the policy “will be handled in the same manner as a security violation.”
Mr. Clapper signed the directive on March 20, and it was quietly posted on the office’s website last week. The same day, he also issued rules to protect whistle-blowers who report information about waste, fraud or abuse via approved governmental channels, although not to the news media.
Those rules, carrying out a presidential order, do not apply to intelligence contractors, only agency employees, a gap that has attracted scrutiny amid the debate over the leaks by Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.
The directive limiting contact with reporters was reported Monday by Steve Aftergood, a government secrecy specialist for the Federation of American Scientists. In a blog post, Mr. Aftergood portrayed the directive as seeking to ensure that “the only news about intelligence is to be authorized news.” He criticized the policy as going too far, arguing that routine interactions between agency employees and reporters about unclassified matters did not pose a threat to national security, but that limiting them would hurt the public.
“The new policy is likely to be effective in reducing the quality, independence and critical content of intelligence-related information that is available to the press and the public,” Mr. Aftergood said.
But intelligence officials argued that the policy essentially codified and made uniform rules that were generally in place across the intelligence agencies, if not uniformly respected. Those policies generally require prescreening of prepared remarks for unclassified events and self-reporting about unplanned contact with journalists.
“This does not prohibit a member of the intelligence community from talking to a member of the press,” said Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Mr. Clapper.
In the spring of 2012 — after a series of leaks about matters like drone strike policy, cyberwar in Iran and the foiling of a bomb plot in Yemen — the Senate Intelligence Committee added an amendment to the annual intelligence bill that would have sharply curtailed the ability of intelligence officials to provide unclassified briefings. Advocates of press freedom and intelligence officials, including those associated with Mr. Clapper’s office, strongly lobbied against the bill, saying it went too far. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who is the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, eventually withdrew most of the amendment.
But in June 2012, Mr. Clapper issued a directive requiring counterespionage polygraph examiners to add a question about unauthorized disclosures to the news media, and allowing the new intelligence inspector general to continue investigations into leaks even if the Justice Department declined to bring charges.