DNI Clapper barred unauthorized media contact last month. But no one noticed until now.


Director of National Intelligence  James Clapper testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 12, 2013. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper signed a directive that bars intelligence officials from talking to the media about their area of expertise without permission. But it took a month for the press and civil liberties groups to notice.

The directive is aimed at ensuring a "consistent approach for addressing media engagement" across the intelligence community and "mitigate the risks of unauthorized disclosures of intelligence-related matters." Translation: Almost all employees are forbidden from having contact with the media about their work area without the express say-so of their associated press team — even to discuss unclassified matters.

That's standard policy in a lot of workplaces — generally, employers don't like employees airing their internal grievances in public. But many transparency advocates see it as having a potentially chilling effect on the ability of whistleblowers to come forward. After all, federal employees are supposed to work in the public interest, and from Watergate and the Pentagon papers to the Snowden disclosures, that could arguably include working outside of the official system.

Clapper signed the policy, known as "Intelligence Community Directive 119," on March 20 and it became effective immediately. But it wasn't uploaded to ODNI's Web site until last Thursday, according to spokesman Shawn Turner. Turner said the office posts dozens of such directives on their site, but does not typically put out announcements when they are uploaded.

Because of the low-key (and somewhat lagging) disclosure, the directive went almost entirely unnoticed until a post on the Federation of American Scientists' Secrecy News blog highlighted it Monday. Since then, it has been covered by most major media outlets.

But despite being in effect for nearly a month, no one in the media or in civil liberties groups seems to have noticed any change in behavior from their intelligence community sources in the meantime.

Jesselyn Radack, director of national security and human rights for the Government Accountability Project and a onetime government whistleblower herself, told The Post that the group has not seen a downtick in intelligence community sources coming forward since the directive was signed. But she attributes that to the "Snowden effect."

"Courage is contagious," she said, but added that whistleblowers and her own organization were already taking extra precautions, such as using encryption. In her view, the directive reads as both "draconian" and "desperate."

"Consider the source of this, James Clapper, a man who lied to Congress on camera," she said, referring to an incident last year in which Clapper answered "no" to a question from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) about whether the NSA collected "any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans."

Months later, after documents released by Snowden revealed that the spy agency was engaging in broad data collection of domestic phone records, Clapper sent a letter of apology to Congress acknowledging that his statements were "clearly erroneous."

Radack said the directive shows that the administration wants to stem leaks, but Turner disagrees, saying critics have failed to note that Clapper signed another directive the same day outlining the process that "clearly states that IC employees have a responsibility to report violations of law, rules, regulations, gross mismanagement and waste and other abuses of authority," and requires employees be informed of how they can disclose their concerns internally.

"Taken together, ICDs 119 and 120 reflect the DNI’s commitment to promoting transparency and ensuring accountability in a responsible manner," Turner told The Post in a statement.

But Radack says the current set-up actually could make life harder for employees interested in reporting problems. Federal workers shouldn't have to go through "statutory gymnastics" to figure out the proper channels for airing concerns, she said.

"I think the idea that an employee would have to do a complicated regulatory construction of tw0 directives and two  executive orders to figure out how to report wrongdoing belies the government’s intent on really creating clear, meaningful, effective whistleblower protection," she said.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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