Intelligence Chief Clapper Bars Employees From Talking to Media

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Monday, 21 Apr 2014 04:20 PM

By Joe Schaeffer

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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has issued a directive barring intelligence workers from talking to the media, even about unclassified matters, without permission.

"Employees… must obtain authorization for contacts with the media" on intelligence-related matters, and "must also report… unplanned or unintentional contact with the media on covered matters," the directive states, the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy reported Monday in a blog post on its website.

The directive was issued March 20 and expresses its purpose as establishing "Intelligence Community (IC) policy on contact with the media to ensure a consistent approach for addressing media engagement across the IC and to mitigate risks of unauthorized disclosures of intelligence-related matters that may result from such contacts."

Although the new policy declares "the IC is committed to sharing information responsibly with the public via the media to further government openness and transparency," it goes on to detail all the circumstances in which intelligence workers are not allowed to speak to the media without first acquiring permission from superiors.

The directive "does not distinguish between classified and unclassified intelligence information" in determining what falls under the realm of "covered matters," Steven Aftergood, head of the Project on Government Secrecy for the FAS, reports.

The directive bluntly states that "no substantive information should be provided to the media regarding covered matters in the the case of unplanned or unintentional contacts. Authorization for a particular contact on covered matters does not constitute authorization for additional media engagement."

It also warns employees that "contacts with the media that involve support to projects such as books, television programs, documentaries, motion pictures, and similar works related to covered matters require consultation with the DNI ."

Aftergood notes that "the new Directive creates an anomalous situation in which routine interactions that are permissible between an intelligence employee and an ordinary member of the public are now to be prohibited if that member of the public qualifies as 'media.'

"So under most circumstances, an intelligence community employee is at liberty to discuss unclassified 'intelligence-related information' with his or her next-door neighbor. But if the neighbor happened to be a member of the media, then the contact would be prohibited altogether without prior authorization."

The Obama administration has been heavily criticized for its attempts to control information released to the media and the public. The Associated Press reported in October that Leonard Downie Jr., a former executive editor of The Washington Post, wrote an analysis that concluded, "in the Obama administration’s Washington, government officials are increasingly afraid to talk to the media.

"The administration's war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I've seen since the Nixon administration, when I was one of the editors involved in The Washington Post's investigation of Watergate," Downie wrote.

In January, New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson accused President Obama of operating "the most secretive White House" she has ever covered.

"I would say it is the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering, and that includes — I spent 22 years of my career in Washington and covered presidents from President Reagan on up through now, and I was Washington bureau chief of the Times during George W. Bush's first term," Abramson told Al Jazeera in an interview.

Aftergood believes the new intelligence regulations are designed to secure total control of all intelligence information revealed to the media and citizenry.

"Essentially, the directive seeks to ensure that the only contacts that occur between intelligence community employees and the press are those that have been approved in advance. Henceforward, the only news about intelligence is to be authorized news," he wrote.

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