WASHINGTON — 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.
A new pre-publication review policy for the Office of Director of National Intelligence says 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.
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. Timothy H. Edgar, a visiting professor at Brown University who worked at the intelligence office and the White House from 2006 to 2013, said it was appropriate to block former officials from disclosing classified information and confirming leaks.
But, he said, it went too far to retroactively block former officials from citing news reports in the public domain, as long as they did so neutrally and did not confirm them as factually correct. That would amount to a prior restraint on former officials’ First Amendment rights that they did not consent to, he said.
“You’re basically saying people can’t talk about what everyone in the country is talking about,” he said. “I think that is awkward and overly broad in terms of restricting speech.”
Intelligence officials have long agreed to submit writings for pre-publication review as a condition of receiving security clearances. While the goal of the old policy was to ensure “the protection of classified information,” the new policy is subtly broader: “to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of information.”
Anchukaitis said the change was intended to acknowledge that there are other types of sensitive information whose release was already restricted, such as proprietary business data submitted for contract negotiations or personnel information covered by the Privacy Act.
The new policy is written ambiguously in places. It combines what had been two directives — one governing official agency writings and another covering unofficial writings by both current and former employees — into one. It is sometimes unclear which categories are covered by particular rules. The new policy was signed last month and first reported on Thursday on the Secrecy News blog by Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists.