It took a freedom of information lawsuit to uncover how the Obama administration killed FOIA reform

Jason Leopold reports: The Obama administration has long called itself the most transparent administration in history. But newly released Department of Justice (DOJ) documents show that the White House has actually worked aggressively behind the scenes to scuttle congressional reforms designed to give the public better access to information possessed by the federal government.

The documents were obtained by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports journalism in the public interest, which in turn shared them exclusively with VICE News. They were obtained using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) — the same law Congress was attempting to reform. The group sued the DOJ last December after its FOIA requests went unanswered for more than a year.

The documents confirm longstanding suspicions about the administration’s meddling, and lay bare for the first time how it worked to undermine FOIA reform bills that received overwhelming bipartisan support and were unanimously passed by both the House and Senate in 2014 — yet were never put up for a final vote. [Continue reading…]

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What everyone with a Top Secret security clearance knows – or should know

Peter Van Buren writes: In the world of handling America’s secrets, words – classified, secure, retroactive – have special meanings. I held a Top Secret clearance at the State Department for 24 years and was regularly trained in protecting information as part of that privilege. Here is what some of those words mean in the context of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails.

The Inspectors General for the State Department and the intelligence community issued a statement saying Clinton’s personal email system contained classified information. This information, they said, “should never have been transmitted via an unclassified personal system.” The same statement voiced concern that a thumb drive held by Clinton’s lawyer also contains this same secret data. Another report claims the U.S. intelligence community is bracing for the possibility that Clinton’s private email account contains multiple instances of classified information, with some data originating at the CIA and NSA.

A Clinton spokesperson responded that “Any released emails deemed classified by the administration have been done so after the fact, and not at the time they were transmitted.” Clinton claims unequivocally her email contained no classified information, and that no message carried any security marking, such as Confidential or Top Secret.

The key issue in play with Clinton is that it is a violation of national security to maintain classified information on an unclassified system. [Continue reading…]

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UK faces more secret government with clampdown on information

The Guardian reports: Whitehall mandarins – the permanent government – are fighting back, with the enthusiastic support of present and former cabinet ministers.

The 2000 Freedom of Information Act was introduced by a new Blair government despite opposition from senior civil servants. It will now be watered down, making it even more difficult for the public and the media to discover the truth.

From the start, Whitehall managed to introduce a host of exceptions in the act, including the activities of the security and intelligence agencies and anything relating to “national security”, a term I have mentioned before covers a multitude of sins.

To cite one example relating to events many decades ago: in a preface to The Defence of the Realm, his official history of MI5, Christopher Andrew says “one significant excision” demanded by Whitehall was “hard to justify”.

The censored passage relates to a chapter entitled the “Wilson Plot” – a reference to attempts to smear the former Labour prime minister and destablise his government. [Continue reading…]

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Jason Leopold — a wizard at prying information from the government

The New York Times reports: When the reporter Jason Leopold gets ready to take on the United States government, he psychs himself up by listening to the heavy metal bands Slayer and Pantera.

Mr. Leopold describes himself as “a pretty rageful guy.” He argued recently with staff members at his son’s preschool because he objected to their references to “Indians” and they objected to his wearing family-unfriendly punk rock T-shirts to school meetings.

Mr. Leopold, 45, who works for Vice News, reserves most of his aggression for dealing with the government. He has revealed about 20,000 pages of government documents, some of them the basis for explosive news stories. Despite his appearance — on a recent day his T-shirt featured the band name “Sick of It All” — his secret weapon is the opposite of anarchic: an encyclopedic knowledge of the Freedom of Information Act, the labyrinthine administration machine that serves it and the kind of legal judo often required to pry information from it.

His small office, just off the kitchen in his home here, is littered with envelopes from various branches of the government and computer disks filled with secrets. His persistence has led to numerous revelations — some in documents that have been released exclusively to him, and others in documents that have been released to multiple reporters after pressure has been brought by Mr. Leopold. [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 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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Why did the FBI label Ryan Shapiro’s dissertation on animal rights a threat to national security?

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Intelligence Community rethinking its approach to transparency and secrecy

a13-iconSteven Aftergood writes: By leaking classified intelligence documents, Edward Snowden transformed public awareness of the scale and scope of U.S. intelligence surveillance programs. But his actions are proving to be no less consequential for national security secrecy policy.

“These leaks have forced the Intelligence Community to rethink our approach to transparency and secrecy,” said Robert S. Litt, General Counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. He spoke at a March 18 Freedom of Information Day program sponsored by the Collaboration on Government Secrecy at American University Washington College of Law.

Mr. Litt made it clear that he did not approve of the Snowden leaks, which he said were unlawful and had “seriously damaged our national security.” Yet he stressed that the leaks have also prompted a reconsideration of previously accepted patterns of secrecy.

“We have had to reassess how we strike the balance between the need to keep secret the sensitive sources, methods and targets of our intelligence activities, and the goal of transparency with the American people about the rules and policies governing those activities.” [Continue reading…]

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Promising to be the most transparent administration, Obama’s turns out to be the most secretive

n13-iconThe Associated Press reports: The Obama administration has a way to go to fulfill its promises from Day 1 to become the most transparent administration in history.

More often than ever, the administration censored government files or outright denied access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, cited more legal exceptions it said justified withholding materials and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.

Most agencies also took longer to answer records requests.

The government’s own figures from 99 federal agencies covering six years show that halfway through its second term, the administration has made few meaningful improvements in the way it releases records. In category after category — except for reducing numbers of old requests and a slight increase in how often it waived copying fees — the government’s efforts to be more open about its activities last year were their worst since President Barack Obama took office.

In a year of intense public interest over the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, the government cited national security to withhold information a record 8,496 times — a 57 percent increase over a year earlier and more than double Obama’s first year, when it cited that reason 3,658 times. The Defense Department, including the NSA, and the CIA accounted for nearly all those. The Agriculture Department’s Farm Service Agency cited national security six times, the Environmental Protection Agency did twice and the National Park Service once.

And five years after Obama directed agencies to less frequently invoke a “deliberative process” exception to withhold materials describing decision-making behind the scenes, the government did it anyway, a record 81,752 times. [Continue reading…]

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Japan secrecy act stirs fears about press freedom, right to know

Reuters reports: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is planning a state secrets act that critics say could curtail public access to information on a wide range of issues, including tensions with China and the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The new law would dramatically expand the definition of official secrets and journalists convicted under it could be jailed for up to five years.

Japan’s harsh state secrecy regime before and during World War Two has long made such legislation taboo, but the new law looks certain to be enacted since Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party-led bloc has a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament and the opposition has been in disarray since he came to power last December.

Critics see parallels between the new law and Abe’s drive to revise Japan’s U.S.-drafted, post-war constitution to stress citizen’s duties over civil rights, part of a conservative agenda that includes a stronger military and recasting Japan’s wartime history with a less apologetic tone.

“There is a demand by the established political forces for greater control over the people,” said Lawrence Repeta, a law professor at Meiji University. “This fits with the notion that the state should have broad authority to act in secret.”

Abe says the new law, a draft of which is expected to be approved by his cabinet on Friday, is vital to his plan to set up a U.S.-style National Security Council to oversee security policies and coordinate among ministries.

Legal and media experts say the law, which would impose harsh penalties on those who leak secrets or try to obtain them, is too broad and vague, making it impossible to predict what would come under its umbrella. The lack of an independent review process leaves wide latitude for abuse, they say. [Continue reading…]

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Hagel pushes for greater secrecy in U.S. Defense Department

American Forces Press Service reports: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently directed that DOD organizations take additional steps to ensure unclassified controlled technical information is protected from cyber intrusions.

“Stolen data provides potential adversaries extraordinary insight into the United States’ defense and industrial capabilities and allows them to save time and expense in developing similar capabilities,” Hagel said in a memo dated Oct. 10.

“Protection of this data is a high priority for the department and is critical to preserving the intellectual property and competitive capabilities of our national industrial base and the technological superiority of our fielded military systems,” he added.

As the world has become increasingly dependent on electronic data, traditional physical security concepts are no longer valid, said Jennifer Elzea, a Defense Department spokesperson.

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The Obama administration and the press: Leak investigations and surveillance in post-9/11 America

In a report for the Committee to Protect Journalists, Leonard Downie Jr., former editor of the Washington Post, writes: In the Obama administration’s Washington, government officials are increasingly afraid to talk to the press. Those suspected of discussing with reporters anything that the government has classified as secret are subject to investigation, including lie-detector tests and scrutiny of their telephone and e-mail records. An “Insider Threat Program” being implemented in every government department requires all federal employees to help prevent unauthorized disclosures of information by monitoring the behavior of their colleagues.

Six government employees, plus two contractors including Edward Snowden, have been subjects of felony criminal prosecutions since 2009 under the 1917 Espionage Act, accused of leaking classified information to the press — compared with a total of three such prosecutions in all previous U.S. administrations. Still more criminal investigations into leaks are under way. Reporters’ phone logs and e-mails were secretly subpoenaed and seized by the Justice Department in two of the investigations, and a Fox News reporter was accused in an affidavit for one of those subpoenas of being “an aider, abettor and/or conspirator” of an indicted leak defendant, exposing him to possible prosecution for doing his job as a journalist. In another leak case, a New York Times reporter has been ordered to testify against a defendant or go to jail.

Compounding the concerns of journalists and the government officials they contact, news stories based on classified documents obtained from Snowden have revealed extensive surveillance of Americans’ telephone and e-mail traffic by the National Security Agency. Numerous Washington-based journalists told me that officials are reluctant to discuss even unclassified information with them because they fear that leak investigations and government surveillance make it more difficult for reporters to protect them as sources. “I worry now about calling somebody because the contact can be found out through a check of phone records or e-mails,” said veteran national security journalist R. Jeffrey Smith of the Center for Public Integrity, an influential nonprofit government accountability news organization in Washington. “It leaves a digital trail that makes it easier for the government to monitor those contacts,” he said.

“I think we have a real problem,” said New York Times national security reporter Scott Shane. “Most people are deterred by those leaks prosecutions. They’re scared to death. There’s a gray zone between classified and unclassified information, and most sources were in that gray zone. Sources are now afraid to enter that gray zone. It’s having a deterrent effect. If we consider aggressive press coverage of government activities being at the core of American democracy, this tips the balance heavily in favor of the government.”

At the same time, the journalists told me, designated administration spokesmen are often unresponsive or hostile to press inquiries, even when reporters have been sent to them by officials who won’t talk on their own. Despite President Barack Obama’s repeated promise that his administration would be the most open and transparent in American history, reporters and government transparency advocates said they are disappointed by its performance in improving access to the information they need.

“This is the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered,” said David E. Sanger, veteran chief Washington correspondent of The New York Times.

The Obama administration has notably used social media, videos, and its own sophisticated websites to provide the public with administration-generated information about its activities, along with considerable government data useful for consumers and businesses. However, with some exceptions, such as putting the White House visitors’ logs on the whitehouse.gov website and selected declassified documents on the new U.S. Intelligence Community website, it discloses too little of the information most needed by the press and public to hold the administration accountable for its policies and actions. “Government should be transparent,” Obama stated on the White House website, as he has repeatedly in presidential directives. “Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing.”

But his administration’s actions have too often contradicted Obama’s stated intentions. “Instead,” New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote earlier this year, “it’s turning out to be the administration of unprecedented secrecy and unprecedented attacks on a free press.”

“President Obama had said that default should be disclosure,” Times reporter Shane told me. “The culture they’ve created is not one that favors disclosure.” [Continue reading…]

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How secrecy structures power

Rosa Brooks writes: [C]lassified information is the currency of the realm inside the national security sausage-making machine. Increasingly, it’s the only way to be special.

You don’t have a security clearance? You’re no one. You have a secret-level clearance? I’m sorry, a top-secret clearance is required for you to be part of this meeting. You have a top-secret clearance? Regrettably, this document is part of a compartmented special-access program and you’re not read-in. In fact, it’s part of a waived, unattributed special access program that only I and four other people know about! Sorry ‘bout that.

As the national security bureaucracy has expanded and more and more classified documents are produced, more and more people need security clearances in order to do their jobs. But as more and more people receive security clearances, the iron law of supply and demand kicks in, and the value of clearances goes down.

According to a 2010 Washington Post series on “Top Secret America,” an estimated 854,000 people hold top-secret clearances. That’s not a very exclusive club: Any secret held by 854,000 people isn’t much of a secret. Throw in the people with lower-level clearances and we get up to more than 4 million, or nearly 2 percent of the adult population of the United States. Who let those guys into the club?

As a result, we keep finding new ways to distinguish between levels and types of access, and more and more documents are (often reflexively) given a high classification, even when there’s really no secret to keep. The U.S. government’s Information Security Oversight Office reported that 92 million decisions to classify information were made in 2011, representing a 20 percent increase in classification decisions from 2010 and a 40 percent increase from 2009.

And as I said, this problem isn’t new. An excellent 2011 report by the Brennan Center for Justice offers some choice glimpses into history. By 1956, only a decade and a half after an executive order signed by FDR launched the modern classification system, a DOD panel was already warning that “overclassification has reached serious proportions.” In 1970, a Defense Science Board task force reported that “the volume of scientific and technical information that is classified could profitably be decreased by perhaps as much as 90 percent.” In 1985, yet another DOD committee concluded sadly that “too much information appears to be classified.” In 1994, a joint CIA-DOD commission found that “the classification system… has grown out of control.” [Continue reading…]

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Damage control: Holder may rein in prosecutors in leak investigations

The New York Times reports: Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., under fire over investigative tactics in leak cases, has opened internal discussions over tightening rules on when prosecutors may seek phone logs and other information that could identify reporters’ sources as he began a series of a meetings on Thursday with leaders of news media organizations.

According to an adviser familiar with the deliberations, Mr. Holder has discussed expanding a requirement for high-level review of proposed subpoenas for reporters’ phone records so that it would include e-mails. He is also examining whether to tighten a standard for when officials may seek such records without giving prior notice to the news organization.

President Obama has given Mr. Holder until July 12 to make his proposals, and Mr. Holder wants to complete an overhaul of department regulations on leak investigations before his tenure is over, said the adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deliberations are preliminary. Mr. Holder has given no indication that he intends to step down any time soon, however. [Continue reading…]

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Holder faces new round of criticism after leak inquiries

The New York Times reports: Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., a lightning rod of Republican attacks during President Obama’s first term, is now contending with a new round of criticism over the Justice Department’s campaign against leaks to the news media.

This time it is the news media and even some Democrats who are upset with Mr. Holder, who in recent days has taken steps seemingly aimed at assuaging them. He endorsed the enactment of a “media shield” law and invited leaders of news organizations to meet with him Thursday to discuss tightening rules on warrants and subpoenas for reporters’ records as part of leak investigations.

Even as Mr. Holder has sought to regain his footing, Republicans have resumed their criticism, accusing him of misleading Congress in testimony over whether the Justice Department has considered prosecuting journalists under the Espionage Act for publishing government secrets.

In a letter Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, and a Republican colleague, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, expressed “great concern” about Mr. Holder’s testimony before the committee this month, saying it “appeared to be at odds” with court documents that have come to light involving a warrant for e-mails of James Rosen, a Fox News reporter.

The prospect of a new round of perjury accusations from Congress has underscored that the furor over the leak investigations might pose a new threat to Mr. Holder, who surprised many Democrats by choosing to stay on after Mr. Obama’s re-election. For now, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are standing by Mr. Holder, even though the ranking member, Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, pronounced himself “deeply troubled” by some of the investigative tactics used in recent leak cases. [Continue reading…]

BuzzFeed: Leading civil liberties groups criticized comments made by the Democratic Party’s communications director that media groups refusing to attend an off-the-record meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder are giving up their “right [to] gripe” about the Department of Justice’s pursuit of journalists’ records under Holder’s leadership.

“I think that what the Department of Justice is doing in soliciting comments … is in principle a good thing, but the suggestion that news organizations somehow give up their right to object by not accepting the invitation is a problem,” said Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel and policy advisor at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office.

After New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson announced the paper would not be attending a meeting with Holder to discuss the DOJ policies for dealing with reporters in leak investigations, Democratic Party communications director Brad Woodhouse tweeted:


Abramson had said in a statement, “We will not be attending the session at DOJ. It isn’t appropriate for us to attend an off the record meeting with the attorney general.” The Associated Press also will not be attending if the meeting remains off the record.

Michael Calderone is keeping track of who will be attending or not attending Holder’s meeting.

Jonathan Turley writes: Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the administration’s sweeping surveillance of journalists with the Associated Press. In the greatest attack on the free press in decades, the Justice Department seized phone records for reporters and editors in at least three AP offices as well as its office in the House of Representatives. Holder, however, proceeded to claim absolute and blissful ignorance of the investigation, even failing to recall when or how he recused himself.

Yet, this was only the latest attack on the news media under Holder’s leadership. Despite his record, he expressed surprise at the hearing that the head of the Republican National Committee had called for his resignation. After all, Holder pointed out, he did nothing. That is, of course, precisely the point. Unlike the head of the RNC, I am neither a Republican nor conservative, and I believe Holder should be fired.

Holder’s refusal to accept responsibility for the AP investigation was something of a change for the political insider. His value to President Obama has been his absolute loyalty. Holder is what we call a “sin eater” inside the Beltway — high-ranking associates who shield presidents from responsibility for their actions. Richard Nixon had H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. Ronald Reagan had Oliver North and Robert “Bud” McFarlane. George W. Bush had the ultimate sin eater: Dick Cheney, who seemed to have an insatiable appetite for sins to eat. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s witch hunt against whistleblowers

Eyal Press writes: Last week Pfc. Bradley Manning returned to court for his final pretrial hearing in the WikiLeaks case, an appearance that has renewed debate about how to balance the imperatives of national security against the rights of whistle-blowers.

But while Private Manning’s ordeal has received exhaustive news coverage, it may ultimately have a less profound bearing on this tension than a barely noticed memo quietly released by the Obama administration earlier this year.

Issued on Jan. 25, the memo instructs the director of national intelligence and the Office of Personnel Management to establish standards that would give federal agencies the power to fire employees, without appeal, deemed ineligible to hold “noncritical sensitive” jobs. It means giving them immense power to bypass civil service law, which is the foundation for all whistle-blower rights.

The administration claims that the order will simply enable these agencies to determine which jobs qualify as “sensitive.” But the proposed rules are exceptionally vague, defining such jobs as any that could have “a material adverse impact” on national security — including police, customs and immigration positions.

If the new rules are put in place, national security could soon be invoked to deny civil servants like Franz Gayl the right to defend themselves when subjected to retaliation. Back in 2010, Mr. Gayl was accused of engaging in a pattern of “intentional misconduct” and suspended from his job. A Marine Corps adviser who had been deployed to Iraq in 2006, Mr. Gayl claimed he was being punished for publicly disclosing that Pentagon bureaucrats had ignored battlefield requests for mine-resistant armored vehicles, at a time when roadside bombs were killing and maiming soldiers.

Like many whistle-blowers, Mr. Gayl appealed to the Merit System Protections Board, an independent, quasi-judicial agency created in 1978 to safeguard the rights of civil servants, which ordered him to be reinstated. [Continue reading…]

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Leak inquiries show how wide a net U.S. govt. cast

The New York Times reports: Even before the F.B.I. conducted 550 interviews of officials and seized the phone records of Associated Press reporters in a leak investigation connected to a 2012 article about a Yemen bomb plot, agents had sought the same reporters’ sources for two other articles about terrorism.

In a separate case last year, F.B.I. agents asked the White House, the Defense Department and intelligence agencies for phone and e-mail logs showing exchanges with a New York Times reporter writing about computer attacks on Iran. Agents grilled officials about their contacts with him, two people familiar with the investigation said.

And agents tracing the leak of a highly classified C.I.A. report on North Korea to a Fox News reporter pulled electronic archives showing which officials had gained access to the report and had contact with the reporter on the day of the leak.

The emerging details of these and other cases show just how wide a net the Obama administration has cast in its investigations into disclosures of government secrets, querying hundreds of officials across the federal government and even some of their foreign counterparts.

The result has been an unprecedented six prosecutions and many more inquiries using aggressive legal and technical tactics. A vast majority of those questioned were cleared of any leaking.

On Thursday, President Obama ordered a review of Justice Department procedures for leak investigations, saying he was concerned that such inquiries chilled journalists’ ability to hold the government accountable. But he made no apology for the scrutiny of the many officials whose records were searched or who had been questioned by the F.B.I.

“He makes the case that we have 18-year-olds out fighting wars and acting like adults, and we have senior administration officials quoted in stories acting like children,” said Tommy Vietor, a former National Security Council spokesman. Mr. Obama and top administration officials say some leaks put Americans at risk, disrupted intelligence operations and strained alliances.

Some officials are now declining to take calls from certain reporters, concerned that any contact may lead to investigation. Some complain of being taken from their offices to endure uncomfortable questioning. And the government officials typically must pay for lawyers themselves, unlike reporters for large news organizations whose companies provide legal representation. [Continue reading…]

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