Communications Crackdown

DNI directive forbids unauthorized talk with journalists

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper / AP
• April 21, 2014 5:08 pm


Members of the intelligence community are now forbidden from unapproved contact with reporters, according to a memo issued last month by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The March directive, obtained by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) Project on Government Secrecy, says members of the intelligence community "must obtain authorization for contacts with the media" regarding intelligence matters.

While the directive refers to intelligence matters, it makes no distinction between classified or unclassified information. The memo forbids unauthorized "contact with the media about intelligence-related information, including intelligence sources, methods, activities, and judgments (hereafter, ‘covered matters’)."

It also requires employees to report any unplanned or unintentional contact with reporters.

Intelligence community (IC) "employees who are found to be in violation of this IC policy may be subject to administrative actions that may include revocation of security clearance or termination of employment," the memo states.

According to the memo, the new policy is intended "to mitigate risks of unauthorized disclosures of intelligence-related matters that may result from such contacts."

Steve Aftergood, the director of the FAS Project on Government Secrecy, said the policy would make national security reporting more difficult.

"The directive will certainly make it harder for national security reporters to do their jobs," Aftergood said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon. "It will be more difficult to develop new sources and to present diverse perspectives on intelligence issues that go beyond the official ‘line.’"

"I think the new policy will also end up hurting the intelligence community by reducing public confidence that the ‘watchdogs’ in the press are able to ferret out mistakes and misconduct," he said.

The Obama administration has aggressively pursued unauthorized leaks. Six government employees and two contractors have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917 for leaking information to the press since President Obama took office—more than all previous administrations combined.

The Justice Department secretly subpoenaed the phone records and emails of journalists suspected of consorting with leakers.

The Obama administration also created an "Insider Threat Program" at federal agencies to ferret out internal leaks.

In a report last year by the Committee to Protect Journalists, numerous national security reporters said the leak prosecutions and other measures have had a noticeable chilling effect on their work, and several compared the Obama administration to Nixon’s.

Kathleen McClellan, the national security and human rights counsel at the Government Accountability Project, called the new policy a "a continuation of that crackdown."

"The Obama admin has been the most draconian in history on employees talking to the media, even more so than Nixon," she said.

McClellan said the policy would restrict information to official sources with a history of less than truthful statements.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress the National Security Agency was not collecting data on millions of Americans, a claim he was later forced to admit was "clearly erroneous."

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not immediately return a request for comment.

Published under: James Clapper, NSA, Transparency