A new policy change to the National Security Act all but bans members of the U.S. intelligence community from speaking to the news media — even in regard to unclassified topics.
The rule changes enacted by executive order are similar to a legislative proposal put before Congress in 2012, which failed to pass the Senate due to the strict level of mandatory silence imposed intelligence community members. Recently retired National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander alluded to new measures aimed at silencing the press in the wake of former contractor Edward Snowden’s year-long leaks of classified bulk surveillance programs shortly before stepping down last month.
Gabe Rottman of the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper “is trying to do by decree what he couldn’t secure through our elected representatives” by sending the rule changes through the White House. The move is in stark contrast to President Obama’s recently announced changes to NSA policy aimed it “increasing transparency.”
“Contact by IC (intelligence community) employees with the media on covered matters must be authorized by their IC element,” the new policy states. “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.”
“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. … At a minimum, violation of this IC policy will be handled in the same manner as a security violation.”
The policy change targets Snowden-style leaks directly by asserting that there are internal methods in place for reporting and dealing with suspected abuse or legally questionable practices. Such “whistle-blower protection laws,” however, do not apply to federal contractors like Snowden, who worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, which bids for national security contracts to do work for agencies like NSA.
Shortly after the leaks President Obama cited whistle-blower protection as the responsible method Snowden should have used to expose the abusive programs, despite the fact they would not have applied to him. Regardless, according to Snowden he tried on numerous occasions to raise flags to his superiors, and was subsequently ignored each time. The NSA has since denied any such conversations ever took place.
Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project in a recent post about the policy recalled Clapper’s now-infamous lie during a congressional hearing in which he was asked directly if the NSA collected data on millions of Americans. Clapper responded, “No … not wittingly.” According to Snowden, that false testimony in March of 2013 was the final motivating factor in his decision to leak the programs collecting exactly what Clapper denied.
“This latest action is a clear extension of the executive branch’s war on national security whistle-blowers,” Radack said. “It is a grotesque twist for James Clapper to limit public knowledge about government activity when he himself has been responsible for lying to Congress and misleading the public about the government’s overreaching mass surveillance programs.”