Obama Officials Have a New Gag Rule on Discussing Snowden Leaks

The first rule of dealing with leaked secrets? Don’t talk about leaked secrets.

Supporters gather at a small rally in support of National Security Administration (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden in Manhattan's Union Square on June 10, 2013 in New York City. About 15 supporters attended the rally a day after Snowden's identity was revealed in the leak of the existence of NSA data mining operations.  
National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
May 9, 2014, 7:08 a.m.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has a new strategy to stop the pub­lic-re­la­tions bleed­ing caused by Ed­ward Snowden and oth­er leak­ers of clas­si­fied in­form­a­tion: ban in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials from ac­know­ledging those leaks at all.

An April dir­ect­ive from the Of­fice of the Dir­ect­or of Na­tion­al In­tel­li­gence pro­hib­its both cur­rent and former em­ploy­ees and con­tract­ors from dis­cuss­ing news re­ports of those leaks in speeches, books, art­icles, or oth­er writ­ings, without first ob­tain­ing “pre­pub­lic­a­tion” per­mis­sion.

“Per­son­nel must not use sourcing that comes from known leaks, or un­au­thor­ized dis­clos­ures of sens­it­ive in­form­a­tion,” reads the policy in­struc­tion, which was first re­por­ted by the Pro­ject on Gov­ern­ment Secrecy’s Steven Af­ter­good. “The use of such in­form­a­tion in a pub­lic­a­tion can con­firm the valid­ity of an un­au­thor­ized dis­clos­ure and cause fur­ther harm to na­tion­al se­cur­ity.”

The broad but some­what am­bigu­ous or­der, which does not dif­fer­en­ti­ate between leaks of clas­si­fied or un­clas­si­fied ma­ter­i­al, ap­pears to ad­di­tion­ally man­date that per­son­nel are barred from par­ti­cip­at­ing in “open dis­cus­sion ven­ues such as for­ums, pan­els, round tables, and ques­tion and an­swer ses­sions” without first ob­tain­ing ap­prov­al to do so.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s clamp­down on dis­cuss­ing leaked in­form­a­tion fol­lows an­oth­er re­cent policy de­cision re­quir­ing in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials to earn per­mis­sion be­fore en­ga­ging in any com­mu­nic­a­tion with a journ­al­ist.

Of­fi­cials are sub­ject to “civil and ad­min­is­trat­ive pen­al­ties” if they do not com­ply with the new policy.

The White House has faced on on­slaught of cri­ti­cism from me­dia out­lets and open-gov­ern­ment act­iv­ists, who say it is one of the most se­cret­ive ad­min­is­tra­tions in U.S. his­tory. It has pro­sec­uted more of­fi­cials in cases in­volving leak­ing clas­si­fied ma­ter­i­al than all pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions com­bined.

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