Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has signed an order deisgned to further wall off the public's access to the work being done at the nation's various intelligence services by banning all "unauthorized" contact betweens agency officials and journalists and making violations of the new orders punishable by termination or even prosecution.
As the Guardian's Spencer Ackerman reports:
Months after the Edward Snowden surveillance disclosures presented US intelligence with a more skeptical media landscape, the intelligence community’s leader has instituted a new media policy: substantive contact with journalists without prior approval can be a firing offense.
Unlike other policies designed to protect classified information, a directive signed on Sunday by James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, is agnostic about the classification status of information his spies, analysts and technical specialists might communicate with the media.
“No substantive information should be provided to the media regarding covered matters in the case of unplanned or unintentional contacts,” reads the directive, which defines “covered matters” as “intelligence-related information, including intelligence sources, methods, activities, and judgments.”
At a “minimum,” the directive reads, incidents “will be handled in the same manner as a security violation.”
The Obama administration has been well-chastized for its pattern of secrecy, limiting press access, and for aggressively targeting government whistleblowers.
Reuters columnist Jack Shafer calls the new rules, offically laid out in Clapper's Directive 119, nothing more than a "stupid press gag order" that will do more harm than good. He writes:
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Directive 119 increases the insularity of the national security state, making the public less safe, not more. Until this directive was issued, intelligence community employees could provide subtext and context for the stories produced by the national security press without breaking the law. Starting now, every news story about the national security establishment that rates disfavor with the national security establishment — no matter how innocuous — will rate a full-bore investigation of sources by authorities.
Directive 119 achieves through executive order much of what the spooks tried to accomplish legislatively in the summer of 2012, when the Senate Intelligence Committee approved a measure that would have banned background briefings between reporters and all intelligence officials except “press officers and agency directors or deputy directors,” as Reuters correspondent Mark Hosenball reported. Such briefings have been routine during most recent presidential administrations, Hosenball wrote. An avalanche of protests smothered the measure, killing it until Clapper resurrected elements of it in Directive 119.
As critics cited by Ackerman note, this latest directive will hamper those intelligence officials who want to speak candidly with the press or disclose internal dissention that may conflict with official statements.
According to Steven Aftergood, an intelligence analyst with the Federation of American Scientists: “The new policy will make it harder for reporters to discover and to report facts and opinions that are at odds with the official line."
He added: “Some of the best reporting on the lead-up to the Iraq war described dissenting views about the state of Iraq’s nuclear program. Those kinds of ‘unauthorized’ perspectives are going to be tougher to find and to present to the public.”
And independent journalist Kevin Gosztola, writing at FireDogLake, says Clapper's new order should be seen for what it truly is: "An effort to force employees to be silent about what is happening in the workplace and let the spin doctors in public affairs offices do all the talking."
This is not about keeping America safe by protecting sensitive information. Management at the top does not want the public hearing from lower-level employees because it might create “misperceptions.” It is best to chill the news gathering process and leave the public less informed so Clapper and future James Clappers are not inconvenienced or accidentally held accountable.