Secrecy & Leaks

The Latest Obama Administration Anti-Leak Initiative

By Jack Goldsmith
Friday, May 9, 2014, 5:28 AM

Charlie Savage reports:

The Obama administration is clamping down on a technique that government officials have long used to join in public discussions of well-known but technically still-secret information: citing news reports based on unauthorized disclosures.

new pre-publication review policy for the Office of Director of National Intelligence says the agency’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 writings.

Such officials “must not use sourcing that comes from known leaks, or unauthorized disclosures of sensitive information,” it says. “The use of such information in a publication can confirm the validity of an unauthorized disclosure and cause further harm to national security.”

Failure to comply “may result in the imposition of civil and administrative penalties, and may result in the loss of security clearances and accesses,” it says.

Here is the relevant document.  As Savage notes, “it follows a policy that James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, issued in March that bars officials at all 17 intelligence agencies from speaking without permission to journalists about unclassified information related to intelligence.”  That document can be found here.

Both of these documents aim at real problems.  Both strike me as overbroad to the point of practically unenforcable, perhaps by design.  Assuming that the policy announced yesterday is extended throughout the intelligence community, these two directives will, I think, do much more to stem the flow of classified information to the public than the leak prosecutions of the past few years.  That is especially so of stories based on what Savage once called “diffuse sourcing,” which occurs when (in my description) “journalists pick up small tidbits of possibly but not necessarily classified information from many people over an extended period, and tie the information together in ways that induce other officials to disclose more tidbits of information, perhaps through winks or nods, all of which, taken together, can amount to a significant disclosure of classified information.”