Thursday, July 26, 2012

Restrictions on Intelligence Employees Who Talk to Media

Senate Proposal for Curbing ‘Leaks’ Escalates Restrictions on Intelligence Employees Who Talk to Media 
By:Kevin Gosztola Wednesday July 25, 2012 3:56 pm

NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake might face increased freedom of speech restrictions under Senate proposals to curb "leaks."

The Senate Intelligence Committee passed an intelligence authorization bill yesterday. The legislation, according to committee chairwoman Senator Dianne Feinstein, would fund measures to “counter terrorist threats, prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, enhance counterintelligence, conduct covert actions and collect and analyze intelligence around the globe.” All of which is expected from the committee serving under the national security state of America. In addition to all that, however, are proposals specifically aimed at “preventing unauthorized disclosures of classified information.”

The proposals come as a response to “leaks” on cyber warfare against Iran, Obama’s “kill list” and a CIA underwear bomb plot sting operation in Yemen. They are the result of a bipartisan offensive against “leaks” that Sen. Feinstein has said comes from the White House.

One of the proposals is a restriction on the “number of intelligence community employees authorized to communicate with the media” and a “prohibition on current and former intelligence officials entering into certain contracts with media organizations.” What this would mean exactly is not defined in the talking points put forward by Feinstein.

Would the “number of intelligence community employees” be limited by establishing guidelines that prohibited lower level employees from talking with news organizations? Would it cut back on the number of individuals, who could speak in an official capacity about intelligence operations?

What exactly does the intelligence committee mean by “contract”? Is getting an intelligence official’s approval to put comments on the record a “contract”? Then there’s the part about this applying to “former intelligence officials” as well as “current” officials. Would this put limits on what people like NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake would be able to say publicly because they might share information that would reveal details on matters “sensitive” to national security? 

[Drake was one of six individuals President Barack Obama's administration has prosecuted under the Espionage Act. The Justice Department's case collapsed in June 2011 and the government was forced to settle for a deal where Drake pled guilty to a misdemeanor but served no jail time.]

This is not far-fetched. Drake attended a Cato Institute event today on “The FISA Amendments Act (FAA) and Mass Spying Without Accountability.” Senator Ron Wyden, who has been bold in his opposition to how the government is abusing the spying powers granted to it by FAA, was asked a question by Drake. Drake wanted to know if it was possible to provide collective security and not go to the dark side and violate Americans civil liberties. He mentioned that he was the executive manager of ThinThread, a program that would have made it possible for the government to respect the Constitution while at the same time protecting liberty. 

Wyden gave Drake an incredibly timid response saying he could not respond or go into specific details about any technology being used by the government. He, instead, generally declared that he believed protecting the country in a dangerous time and protecting people’s civil liberties is not “mutually exclusive.”

How might Wyden answer this question if the Senate intelligence committee’s proposals were passed by Congress? And would Drake be putting himself in a position where government could punish him for asking questions or making comments at public events if these proposals were signed into law? Feinstein told CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer when she first was expressing outrage at the “leaks,” ”[It's a] problem that we have people consulting. They live their life with classified information. They then get a consultancy with your show or your station or some other station and they’re talking, inadvertently, I think, about information that should not be talked about.” Given this earlier statement from Feinstein, it seems reasonable to presume the measure is intended to silence former intelligence employees.

In addition to these provisions that explicitly mention the media, the Senate proposals would require the executive branch to notify Congress when it made “authorized disclosures of intelligence information to the public.” Why would this be necessary? It might be one way to ensure that Congress be fully briefed on specific matters before disclosures occur. Quite often it seems Congress members are blindsided by administrations that do not fill in people on what they are doing on national security until a news story is about to be released that will generate interest in a national security matter and put these officials in a position where they have to answer questions.

The new measures call for the “Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to improve the process for conducting administrative leaks investigations, including a requirement to proactively identify leaks and take administrative action when necessary.” The DNI has already proactively moved to institute anti-leaks measures. Intelligence employees will now be required to answer a question on whether they have leaked “restricted information” to journalists or the news media when they take a polygraph test that all employees have to take every seven years. They will also be subjected to an environment that further chills freedom of speech, as they could be issued “letters of reprimand” if they are “suspected” of being involved in a “leak.”

read much more at DISSENTER

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