The Obama administration has clamped down further on intelligence officials’ interaction with the media.
A recent Associated Press story indicates that director of national intelligence, James Clapper, issued a March 20 directive stating that only certain intelligence officials are authorized to speak to the media. Violating the directive could result in an employee losing his or her security clearance or job.
A spokesman for Clapper said the directive stemmed from a promise the director made to members of Congress in 2012. In that year Congress was considering passing a law to stem the flow of national security leaks. Concerns had been raised over a couple of high-profile leaks. One was the disclosure of U.S. involvement in cyberattacks on Iran and the other was over the revelation of a possible al-Qaida plot to place explosives on a U.S.-bound jetliner.
The law garnered plenty of support as many Republicans accused the White House of staging the leaks during an election year. But many felt such a law would be too restrictive on the media. In an effort to avoid such broad legislation Clapper began work to develop the March directive.
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Some still feel that the new rules are too broad. Officials had always been restricted from disclosing classified information but the directive applies to unclassified information as well.
Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert with the Federation of American Scientists, reported on the new policy Monday from his blog, Secrecy News. He pointed out that the rules do “not distinguish between classified and unclassified intelligence information. The ‘covered matters’ that require prior authorization … extend to any topic that is ‘related’ to intelligence, irrespective of its classification status.”
"The new directive is far more sweeping than any previous policy, since it applies to basically everything having to do with intelligence,” Aftergood told the AP. "By trying to regulate reporters' ability to independently gather unclassified information, the directive will undermine the credibility of all intelligence-related news.”
The directive will continue to raise eyebrows. And it is proof that the current administration is serious about tightening its grip on officials and their availability to the press.
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Two weeks ago Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, told The Takeaway’s John Hockenberry that the Obama administration is the most secretive she has ever seen.
"The Obama years are a benchmark for a new level of secrecy and control," she said. ”It's created quite a challenging atmosphere for The New York Times, and for some of the best reporters in my newsroom who cover national security issues in Washington.”
The new rules for intelligence officials are unlikely to change that.