Trump lies about phone conversation with Clapper

On Wednesday evening Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued a statement saying:

This evening, I had the opportunity to speak with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss recent media reports about our briefing last Friday. I expressed my profound dismay at the leaks that have been appearing in the press, and we both agreed that they are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security.

We also discussed the private security company document, which was widely circulated in recent months among the media, members of Congress and Congressional staff even before the IC became aware of it. I emphasized that this document is not a U.S. Intelligence Community product and that I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC. The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions. However, part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.

The following morning, Trump tweeted:


When I say Trump lied about the conversation, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.

The alternative is that the next president has such an impaired capacity to take in information that conflicts with his presuppostions/prejudices/agenda that he is functionally deaf — that he literally only hears what he wants to hear.

As I said, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt — I think he’s just a liar.

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U.S. spy report blames Putin for hacks, but doesn’t back it up

The Daily Beast reports: U.S. spy chiefs presented their case at Trump Tower on Friday that Russia was behind the hacks that rocked the 2016 presidential election. But they didn’t help themselves by releasing a strongly-worded report that is scant on new evidence—and is, in some cases, a literal rehash of outdated information.

“There was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines,” President-elect Trump said in a statement right after he met with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan, FBI Director Jim Comey, and NSA chief Adm. Michael Rogers.

“Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election [and with]… a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” the intelligence chiefs announced through an unclassified report released after the meeting that sounded like it was coming from an alternate universe.

The night-and-day report and reaction hint at either a difficult relationship to come between the president and America’s spies, or a cagey response by a future commander in chief who is only beginning to realize how the chess masters in the Kremlin play the game of geopolitics.

The unclassified report is unlikely to convince a single skeptic, as it offers none of the evidence intelligence officials say they have to back it up—none of those emails or transcripts of phone calls showing a clear connection between the Russian government and the political intrusions. The reason—revealing how U.S. spies know what they know could endanger U.S. spy operations. [Continue reading…]

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Putin’s man in the White House

Yesterday, Donald Trump tweeted:


Contrary to Trump’s claim that the DNC “would not allow the FBI to study or see its computer info,” Eric Walker, the DNC’s deputy communications director, told BuzzFeed News via email prior to Trump’s tweets: “the FBI never requested access to the DNC’s computer servers” [Walker’s italics].

Following an intelligence briefing today, Trump released a statement in which he said:

While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.

That conclusion — “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election” — is Trump’s and not the conclusion of the intelligence agencies.

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported on testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Brushing aside Donald Trump’s dismissiveness, the nation’s intelligence chief insisted Thursday that U.S. agencies are more confident than ever that Russia interfered in America’s recent presidential election. And he called the former Cold War foe an “existential threat” to the nation.

Did Russian hacking sway the results? There’s no way for U.S. agencies to know, said James Clapper, the director of national intelligence.

Asked about the possible effect of the disclosure of private information stolen by hackers, Clapper said, “The intelligence community can’t gauge the impact it had on the choices the electorate made.”

Where Trump and the intelligence community are in agreement is that, as Clapper said, Russian hacking “did not change any vote tallies.”

After having become a lonely holdout in sustaining his skepticism about whether any Russian hacking had even occurred, Trump now claims absolute certainty about the hacking’s effect — which is to say, that it had no effect.

The overarching message Trump wants to promote is that Russia had no role in his election.

Until it became an unsustainable viewpoint, Trump insisted that he simply didn’t believe there had been any Russian involvement.

Now that he can’t push that line any further, he’s changed his tack slightly by abandoning his hard denial and instead says Russia’s interference was of no consequence.

What is clear, is that Trump is convinced that if he gives any real ground on this issue, he is going to end up being viewed — or as many of us would say, recognized — as Putin’s man in the White House.

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What do intelligence agencies mean when they express a ‘high confidence level’ in an intelligence finding?

In an interview with former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell, Suzanne Kelly asks: With the understanding that sources and methods need to be kept secret in order for an intelligence organization to be able to effectively do its job, can you give a sense of how rigorous a source is vetted by an intelligence agency? It’s not like they are taking the first thing they hear and calling it intelligence, right? Can you give us an idea of how rigorously information is checked before it is presented to the President?

Morell: The analytic process itself is fact-based. It’s rigorous from the perspective of the analyst who is doing the work, and it is, as you know, reviewed by a large number of people, including other analysts in the agency in which you’re working, other analysts in other intelligence community agencies, as well as your superiors. In the case of a significant judgment like the one we’re talking about, it goes to the very top of the intelligence community. So I’m sure that (Director of National Intelligence) Jim Clapper, (CIA Director) John Brennan, and the other leaders of the Intelligence Community have paid very close attention and have looked very closely at the judgments and how they were arrived at and asked a lot of questions, sent people back to the drawing board to look at this or look at that, so that’s point number one.

Point number two is, since the Iraq war, the Intelligence Community has put a huge amount of focus on stating their level of confidence in a judgment that they make. It turns out that the real mistake in the Iraq war was not the judgment that they came to, but the fact that if they had really thought about it, the analysts would have only said that they only had low confidence in that judgment that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. That would have been a completely different message, right?

That was a mistake, so the lesson learned from Iraq was to really focus on your level of confidence in the judgment you’re making. ‘Not only do I think its going to rain tomorrow, but I have high confidence in that,’ or ‘It’s going to rain tomorrow but you guys have to know that I only have low confidence in that.’ That has become a big focus. What really caught my attention in the leaks that came out about the CIA’s judgment about what Putin was trying to achieve in his interference in the election is that the analysts applied ‘high confidence’ to that judgment. What that says to me, because we don’t attach high confidence levels to just any judgment, very few judgments actually have a high confidence level, so to get that, you have to have more than one source of data. I think we’re looking at multiple sources of data here, and you have to have something that is stronger than just a circumstantial case. I think you have to have some direct evidence, so I think we have some direct evidence.

The stuff that’s being talked about publicly, is all stuff that doesn’t really damage sources and methods, and that’s stuff that seems to be circumstantial, right? How do you know what Russian intentions are simply from the fact that they hacked the DNC, right? It’s the stuff that takes you directly to the top and directly to Putin’s intentions that probably have very sensitive sources and methods involved, and that’s why you’re not hearing anything about them.

So when the CIA says it has high confidence that they not only interfered in the election, but they did with the intent of helping Trump and hurting Clinton, I’d put very high stock in that for the two reasons we just talked about. [Continue reading…]

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Just one Trump transition aide dealing with CIA and 16 other agencies in the intelligence community

Reuters reports: Only one member of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team is dealing with the CIA and the 16 other offices and agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, four U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Geoffrey Kahn, a former House intelligence committee staffer, is the only person named so far to Trump’s intelligence community “landing team,” they said. As a result, said one senior career intelligence officer, briefing books prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the National Security Agency, the National Counterterrorism Center, and 13 other agencies and organizations are “waiting for someone to read them.” “It seems like an odd time to put issues like cyber security and international terrorism on the back burner,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Previous administrations, the official said, were quicker to staff their intelligence teams, in part because they considered intelligence issues critical to setting foreign policy, defense and budget priorities.

The intelligence community has some 200,000 employees and contractors and an annual budget of more than $70 billion. It collects and analyzes information on a vast array of subjects, from national security threats such as terrorism and climate change to global conflicts and the foreign, defense and trade policies of foreign governments.

Kahn has been in periodic contact with the CIA, said two of the officials, adding that they did not know if he had been in touch with the other intelligence agencies. [Continue reading…]

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Pentagon and intelligence community chiefs have urged Obama to remove the head of the NSA

The Washington Post reports: The heads of the Pentagon and the nation’s intelligence community have recommended to President Obama that the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, be removed.

The recommendation, delivered to the White House last month, was made by Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., according to several U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

Action has been delayed, some administration officials said, because relieving Rogers of his duties is tied to another controversial recommendation: to create separate chains of command at the NSA and the military’s cyberwarfare unit, a recommendation by Clapper and Carter that has been stalled because of other issues.

The news comes as Rogers is being considered by President-elect Donald Trump to be his nominee for director of national intelligence to replace Clapper as the official who oversees all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies. In a move apparently unprecedented for a military officer, Rogers, without notifying superiors, traveled to New York to meet with Trump on Thursday at Trump Tower. That caused consternation at senior levels of the administration, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal personnel matters. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. government officially accuses Russia of hacking campaign to interfere with elections

The Washington Post reports: The Obama administration on Friday officially accused Russia of attempting to interfere in the 2016 elections, including by hacking the computers of the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations.

The denunciation, made by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security, came as pressure was growing from within the administration and some lawmakers to publicly name Moscow and hold it accountable for actions apparently aimed at sowing discord around the election.

“The U.S. Intelligence Community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations,” said a joint statement from the two agencies. “. . . These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.”

The public finger-pointing was welcomed by senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who also said they now expect the administration to move to punish the Kremlin as part of an effort to deter further acts by its hackers. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS spreading in Europe, U.S. intelligence chief warns

The New York Times reports: The Islamic State is operating clandestine terrorist cells in Britain, Germany and Italy, similar to the groups that carried out the attacks in Paris and Brussels, the top-ranking American intelligence official said on Monday.

When asked if the Islamic State was engaging in secret activities in those nations, the official, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, said: “Yes, they do. That is a concern, obviously, of ours and our European allies.” He then added, “We continue to see evidence of plotting on the part of ISIL in the countries you named.” ISIL is another name for the Islamic State.

Mr. Clapper, speaking to reporters at a breakfast meeting organized by The Christian Science Monitor, became one of the most senior Western officials to publicly acknowledge the Islamic State’s extensive reach into Europe, which has set off growing fears among American and European spy services and policy makers. The Islamic State has vowed to conduct attacks in those three European countries. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. investigating Moscow’s divide and rule strategy in Europe

The Telegraph reports: American intelligence agencies are to conduct a major investigation into how the Kremlin is infiltrating political parties in Europe, it can be revealed.

James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence, has been instructed by the US Congress to conduct a major review into Russian clandestine funding of European parties over the last decade.

The review reflects mounting concerns in Washington over Moscow’s determination to exploit European disunity in order to undermine Nato, block US missile defence programmes and revoke the punitive economic sanctions regime imposed after the annexation of Crimea.

The US move came as senior British government officials told The Telegraph of growing fears that “a new cold war” was now unfolding in Europe, with Russian meddling taking on a breadth, range and depth far greater than previously thought.

“It really is a new Cold War out there,” the source said, “Right across the EU we are seeing alarming evidence of Russian efforts to unpick the fabric of European unity on a whole range of vital strategic issues.”

A dossier of “Russian influence activity” seen by The Sunday Telegraph identified Russian influence operations running in France, the Netherlands, Hungary as well as Austria and the Czech Republic, which has been identified by Russian agents as an entry-point into the Schengen free movement zone.

The US intelligence review will examine whether Russian security services are funding parties and charities with the intent of “undermining political cohesion”, fostering agitation against the Nato missile defence programme and undermining attempts to find alternatives to Russian energy.

Officials declined to say which parties could come into the probe but it is thought likely to include far-right groups including Jobbik in Hungary, Golden Dawn in Greece, the Northern League in Italy and France’s Front National which received a 9m euro (£6.9m) loan from a Russian bank in 2014. [Continue reading…]

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Obama refers to Khorasan threat for the first time

ABC News reports: Today is the first time President Obama has uttered the word “Khorasan” in public.

Indeed, we can find no example of any White House official ever mentioning this al Qaeda cell by name in public. The group has never even been mentioned in any of the White House background briefings on the terrorist threat emanating from Syria (and there have been several such briefings).

It’s quite extraordinary to see military action against a group the White House has never talked about.

There is one official outside the White House who did talk about Khorasan, briefly, last week. James Clapper had this to say Thursday at an intelligence conference in Washington: “In terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State.”

Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, may have revealed more than the administration wanted to reveal. The White House was trying to keep this quiet to avoid tipping the group off that it might be targeted.

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Visiting the ODNI: A day of speaking truth to power

Quinn Norton: “It’s called ‘the crackpot realism of the present’” someone said to me, and handed me a note. I folded up the note, and stuffed it in my purse. This was a phrase used to explain, much more clearly than I was doing at the time, the bias of thinking that now is right, forgetting that the future will look back on our ideas with the same curious and horrified amusement we watch the human past with. It’s believing, without any good reason, that right now makes sense.

The present I was in right then didn’t make a lot of sense.

I was sitting in a cleared facility near Tyson’s Corner in Virginia, the beating heart of the industrial-military-intelligence-policing complex, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. I was there to help the government. Of the places I did not expect to ever go, at least not of my free will, the ODNI would be up there.

A few weeks ago, a friend from the Institute for the Future [IFTF] asked me if I would fly to DC for a one day workshop on the future of identity with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “What?” I sputtered, “Did they google me?” and then, mentally: Duh. The ODNI can do a lot more than google me.

I knew IFTF had intel clients, with whom I have occasionally chatted at events in the past. My policy when confronted with spooks asking questions about how the world works is to give them as much information as I can — one of my biggest problems with how security services work is their lack of wisdom. If I can reach people in positions of power and persuade them to critically examine that power, I consider that a win. I also consider it a long shot.

An invite from the ODNI is a strange thing. I’ve been publicly critical of them, sometimes viciously so. A few days earlier I tweeted that their director should be publicly tried for lying to Congress. I’ve written about the toxicity of the NSA spying (under ODNI direction), the corrupt fictions of Anonymous staged by the FBI (FBI/NSB is within ODNI’s area) and spoken out countless times in the last eight years against warrantless spying. I have even less love for the FBI and DOJ.

I turned the offer over in my head. I was influenced by a few things –yes it was paid, but not well paid. It was what I normally get from IFTF for a day of my time, and given the travel commitment, a bit low. I weighed the official imprimatur of involvement, and that was a factor. I am afraid of being pursued and harassed by my government. This has never happened to me in relation to my work, though I have been turned down for housing by people who feared I might bring police attention. It has to my friends, sources and associates. I know what it feels like, what they do when you’re a target, because I have been subject to terrorizing tactics and harassment because of whom I chose to love. I have publicly acknowledged that I self-censor because of this fear. I have a child to raise, and you can’t do that while you fight for your life and freedom in court. Raising my profile with the government as an expert probably makes me harder to harass.

I told my IFTF contact I don’t sign NDAs (which he already knew) and that I’d have to be public about my attendance and write about it. He told me they were publicly publishing their work for the ODNI too. “Huh,” I said to my screen. The organizers were on board with all of it. They wanted me in particular.

Finally, I thought about the hell I would get from the internet — like government harassment, internet harassment is part of the difficult and hated process of self-censorship for me.

In the end, I said yes, because you only get so far talking to your friends. [Continue reading…]

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National security journalists say it’s only getting harder to report on intelligence agencies

Cora Currier writes: This spring, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued new policies requiring that all public writings and remarks — even by former employees — be checked beforehand for sensitive information, and circumscribing how employees can talk about classified material that’s already out in the public sphere.

Long-time intelligence reporters say it’s too soon to say whether the directives — in effect since April, and first reported earlier this month — are specifically causing sources to clam up. But the policies contribute to a climate where government sources are increasingly twitchy about talking with reporters, even on unclassified matters. In March, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) expressly forbid unauthorized contact with the media for all current employees of the 17 government spy agencies it oversees.

“Clearly this is part of the post-Snowden scramble to try to control the message and control information,” said Mark Mazzetti, a New York Times national security reporter and author of a recent book on the CIA. It’s been almost a year since former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden began leaking documents on government surveillance, Mazzetti said, “and they’re still wrestling with this.”

Steven Aftergood, of the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News blog, argues that the ODNI’s new policies are a step up in government control, in that they extend beyond only regulating classified information to include “sensitive” matters. The ODNI says that the new directives just reflect a consolidation of existing practices, and they’re not as inflexible as they may seem on paper. “It is understood that there are times that former employees may receive calls for comment from the media, and there simply is not time to follow the pre-publication review process,” the ODNI wrote in a statement after the policies came to light.

“You rely on people who get out of government to give a more candid assessment of what’s going on inside it,” said Mazzetti. “We’ll have to see how it’s enforced and whether people listen to it. There will be people who will bristle at this attempt to control what they can say.”

At least so far, Jeff Stein, who covers intelligence matters for Newsweek, said that “during meetings with intelligence sources last week the order was having no apparent effect whatsoever.”

But Mazzetti noted that already, “leak investigations and revelations about surveillance capabilities are making people think twice about having any type of communication with reporters. These directives can’t help.” [Continue reading…]

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The slippery slope of secrecy

A New York Times editorial says: “If you want to keep a secret,” George Orwell advised in “1984,” “you must also hide it from yourself.” So the latest stricture seems to demand from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the federal uber-agency of all things secret. The office, which oversees 16 government intelligence agencies, issued a new policy in April that will seriously constrain the existing practice by which officials comment informally to the press and public when obvious issues are stirred by leaked information and unauthorized disclosures.

We consider this process an unavoidable but decidedly healthy way of life in Washington. But the updated policy sternly requires that an informed official who’s been regulating his own give-and-take in this important area now submit for advance approval an outline of the topics expected to arise in “unstructured or free-form discussions.” Otherwise, the policy memo states with a certain alarm, an official’s utterances could be construed as a validation of leaked information and “cause further harm to national security.”

The new prepublication review policy provides that the office’s current and former employees and contractors may not cite news reports based on leaks in their speeches, opinion articles, books, term papers or other unofficial writing, according to a report by Charlie Savage of The Times. Semaphore seems to have been overlooked as a medium, but we get the point.

The reassuring fact is that all manner of officials, from the president on down, occasionally speak authoritatively about an issue that might be informed by some bit of leaked information. It’s the mother’s milk of capital conversation. But don’t tell that to the director of national intelligence, James Clapper Jr., whose passion for keeping secrets at any cost — even his own reputation for honesty — has become legendary. It was Mr. Clapper who was asked at a Senate hearing last year whether the National Security Agency collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.”

“No, sir,” responded Mr. Clapper, adding, “Not wittingly.” Soon came the disclosures — leaks by the torrent — about the N.S.A.’s vast data-mining program.

The new crackdown policy caused enough confusion and derision that the national security office subsequently denied there was anything new about it; just a reminder of past policy. But anyone could see this wasn’t so — once the new policy memo was leaked, of course.

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The U.S. Intelligence Community doesn’t understand the world in which we live

Josh Kerbel writes: In 2012, the once-mighty Eastman-Kodak company declared bankruptcy. It was an event that should have reverberated strongly with the United States Intelligence Community (IC) — and not just due to the obvious connection between imaging and spying. Rather, it should have resonated because in Kodak the IC could have glimpsed a reflection of itself: an organization so captivated by its past that it was too slow in changing along with its environment.

To understand the IC’s similar captivation and lethargy — to remain focused on classified collection in an era of increasingly ubiquitous, useful and unclassified data — one must first understand the type of problem around which the modern IC business model remains designed: the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was fundamentally a collection problem. That is to say, it was a closed system (i.e., a discrete entity) with clear edges and a hierarchical governance structure. Given that nature, knowing what was happening in the Soviet Union required the use of classified means of collection — most of which the IC alone possessed.

Today, however, the IC no longer has the luxury of watching a single discrete entity that demands classified collection in order to obtain relevant data. There is a much more expansive range of interconnected and complex challenges. These challenges — economic contagion, viral political and social instability, resource competition, migration, climate change, transnational organized crime, pandemics, proliferation, cyber security, terrorism, etc. — are interdependent phenomena, not discrete ”things.” As such, they are less collection issues than cognitive ones. To put it differently: relevant data about all these issues is widely available—the real challenge is to make sense of it.

This, of course, is a very different world for the IC, one in which it has little experience. Consequently, the IC — unfortunately, but not surprisingly — does what it knows; it grafts its own legacy experience and expertise — classified collection — onto the new challenges that loom. Accordingly, terrorism (a broad phenomenon that needs to be thought about contextually) becomes — mistakenly — about terrorists (distinct things that need to be targeted for collection). Indeed, the whole slew of complex issues mentioned above get artificially and erroneously reduced to discrete chunks. Not only is this dangerously simplistic, it effectively puts the IC on a divergent path from the increasingly complex world it is tasked to understand. [Continue reading…]

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ODNI issues misleading statement on policy changes

Steve Aftergood writes: “Recent media reports have misconstrued ODNI’s policy for pre-publication of information to be publicly released,” according to a May 9 statement that was issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The ODNI policy had been described in articles published in Secrecy News (ODNI Requires Pre-Publication Review of All Public Information, May 8) and in the New York Times (Intelligence Policy Bans Citation of Leaked Material by Charlie Savage, May 8).

ODNI said that the new pre-publication review policy was basically a consolidation of two previous policies (ODNI Instruction 80.14/2007-6, July 25, 2007, and ODNI Instruction 80.04, August 5, 2009) and that it represented nothing very new.

“The revised policy is not significantly different from the two previous policies,” the new ODNI statement asserted.

But that assertion is hard to understand, since the text of the revised policy appears significantly different from its predecessors in several respects.

First and foremost, the previous policies focused on protection of classified information, while the revised policy casts a much broader net. [Continue reading…]

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The increasing isolation of the American national security state

Jack Shafer writes: The nation’s top spy has prohibited all of his spies from talking with reporters about “intelligence-related information” unless officially authorized to speak. Intelligence Community Directive 119, signed by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper last month and made public Monday in a report by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, threatens to reduce the flow of information from the national security establishment to the press — and hence the public.

As Aftergood notes, Directive 119 does not merely bar intelligence community employees from sharing classified intelligence information with reporters. It also bars the discussion with the media of unclassified intelligence information “related” to intelligence. Under Directive 119, any and all conversations between spooks and reporters not explicitly authorized by top officials will be criminalized at the worst or potentially put intelligence employees out of a job at the least. The same discussion of unclassified matters between an intelligence community employee and a non-reporter would be allowed, Aftergood further notes.

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. [Continue reading…]

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