Bradley Manning and leaks to news media: Is US pursuit too hot? (+video)
Bradley Manning's mass disclosures to WikiLeaks 'triggered an intense reaction' inside the Obama administration to squelch future leaks to journalists – and to hunt down leakers, experts say. That reaction, in turn, is stirring debate about the right balance between secrecy and transparency.
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“The president himself was angry over WikiLeaks,” says a federal employee who asked not to be named because he is not permitted to speak to the press. “I was told that the government order to ‘make sure this [WikiLeaks] never happens again’ came direct from the president.”Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks Scandals
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The WikiLeaks reports may have prompted the government to take a second look at old cases of unauthorized disclosures of classified information. As of last year, hundreds of such cases were under review by the Office of the Inspector General of the US Intelligence Community, according to a Federation of American Scientists (FAS) report in June. “The Investigations Division [of the IC Office of the Inspector General] is reviewing 375 unauthorized disclosure case files,” according to a newly declassified report from Inspector General I. Charles McCullough, covering November 2011 through June 2012 and cited by FAS.
Of course, it’s a longstanding tradition that certain leaks of classified information – emanating from Congress or the White House itself, for instance – won’t be prosecuted, raising the prospect of a double standard. The Obama administration, for one, has been accused of leaking the identities of members of SEAL Team 6 and other classified information to producers of “Zero Dark Thirty,” a movie about the raid to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, according to news reports.
But others say leaks to reporters are out of hand and must be stopped.
“It used to be that the press was fairly good about not revealing intelligence sources and methods,” says Gabriel Schoenfeld, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and author of “Necessary Secrets,” a history of leaking and government response to leaking. “But that began to break down during the Bush administration, and it’s totally broken down now.” The leaks of NSA programs to newspapers and the leaking of diplomatic cables and military documents to WikiLeaks are examples where “our secrets are being disseminated in very damaging way,” he says.
A hunt made easier
The burst in spying charges is made possible in part by the government’s ability to identify leakers by analyzing e-mail, phone-call metadata, and other tools to determine which workers have been in contact with reporters, Aftergood says.
“We leave more electronic footprints in the form of telephone and e-mail records than in the past,” he says. “The old-fashioned meeting in the parking lot, or the mailing of documents in a plain brown envelope, has been superseded by tracking of unencrypted e-mail and cellphone calls, which are inherently traceable.”
That, in turn, has made the press a nearly automatic surveillance target in new leak cases.
In May, the Associated Press reported that the Justice Department had subpoenaed phone records of reporters and editors for the months prior to a story it had reported on a CIA operation in Yemen. The goal was to determine the source for the story – what US Attorney General Eric Holder described as a “serious” leak.
That same month, the Washington Post reported that James Rosen, a Fox News reporter based in Washington, had been designated a “co-conspirator” in the espionage prosecution of Stephen Kim, a State Department contractor. Indicted in 2010, Mr. Kim allegedly leaked classified information to Mr. Rosen, who was working on an article about North Korea’s nuclear program.
Designating a member of the press as a co-conspirator in an espionage case was something new. It allowed the FBI to obtain a search warrant to read Rosen’s e-mails and to track his State Department visits, the Post reported.
Mr. Holder has since clarified that the Justice Department is unlikely to prosecute reporters. But he also asserted that, as part of an investigation, the designation was warranted so that the government could get a search warrant to obtain “relevant evidence from a member of the news media.”
The Justice Department did not respond to multiple requests for an interview or to a list of questions.
Journalism advocates strenuously object.