FIRST Principles for September 18, 2017

WHITE HOUSE ORDERS LEAKS TRAINING FOR THIS WEEK The Trump Administration has requested that federal agencies organize 1-hour training sessions sometime in the coming week on the dangers of unauthorized disclosures of classified information as well as the need to safeguard “controlled unclassified information.” BuzzFeed News’ Chris Geidner reports that on September 8, National Security Advisory H.LR. McMaster requested that all departments and agencies organize the training sometime the week of September 18-22, 2017. McMaster suggests potential training materials could include a Fox News interview with National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina or a video of Attorney General [More]

Forum on Press Freedom: What we said

On July 24, a bipartisan group of Members of Congress held a forum on press freedom to examine recent threats and attacks against the media. Much of the discussion focused on the changing landscape in the media and attacks and threats from President Trump. Congress could take several steps to strengthen freedom of the press, we argued, including enacting a shield bill to protect journalists’ sources, a law to protect free speech against abusive libel lawsuits, and more. Click here for more on the forum, including comments from veteran journalist Marvin Kalb, First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams, and others.

A few things to remember about leaks

Journalists who routinely cover national security and foreign affairs topics take care to carefully consider possible harms to national security, privacy or similar interests from disclosures of information in their stories. Journalists carefully weigh government assertions of harm. There are limits to what can be classified. Executive Order 13526 makes clear that information can only be classified if protection is “required” in the interest of national security. Further, information can never be classified in order to: (1) conceal violations of law, inefficiency or administrative error; (2) prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency; (3) restrain competition; or (4) prevent [More]

In defense of leaks

The August edition of Editor and Publisher magazine includes a feature article I wrote in defense of leaks. “Leaks” often describe any unauthorized disclosure of either classified or unclassified information, and those disclosures are the basis for a great deal of daily news reporting that benefits the public interest. There have been efforts in the past to shut down “leaks,” however any efforts to curtail all leaks is misguided and harms the public’s access to reliable, accurate information about global events and the challenges facing the U.S. In the article, I argue only those disclosures that may potentially cause specific [More]

Pentagon, FOIA Ombudsman, Benefits > Costs. It’s your FIRST Principles for July 17, 2017

This is your FIRST Principles Update July 17, 2017 DEFENSE WANTS STATUTORY EXEMPTION FOR TACTICS, TECHNIQUES, PROCEDURES AND RULES OF ENGAGEMENT. The Pentagon wants to keep secret the tactics, techniques and procedures that the military teaches soldiers so adversaries are not tipped off to the military’s thinking. Understandable, sure, but we’re working to ensure we can cover the military as an organization, a workplace, and a buyer of goods and services using taxpayer dollars. Go here for more. STATE of the FIRST A. The Newseum Institute assembled a second quarterly Report Card assessing the state of the five freedoms of [More]

FOIA: The Ombudsman Needs to Grow

When Congress improved FOIA last year, it built in some growing pains for the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS). Today, we’re seeing those pains in longer than usual waits for replies from OGIS. The office has reportedly been inundated with requests for assistance as FOIA requesters navigate FOIA. In response, they’ve had to triage the Office’s response to help requests. OGIS was never intended to add another level of waiting to the FOIA process, but FOIA reformers in Congress knew growing pains were inevitable. To fulfill its mission, OGIS will have to become bigger than its current size to [More]

Pentagon (again) seeks help from Congress to keep tactics secret

Pentagon hopes Congress will protect tactics, techniques and procedures from disclosure. Military also seeks to protect rules of engagement. Public interest in disclosure could outweigh confidentality, but military gets to decide in Pentagon’s proposal. Defense Department is hoping the third time’s the charm as it once again asks for the authority to withhold from the public certain military tactics, techniques and procedures , the disclosure of which would give an adversary an advantage. The proposal (Sec. 1003 of DoD’s draft legislation), which the Defense Department would like included in the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2018, is narrower than [More]

First Amendment Panel Ranks a Free Press as Most at Risk

Reviewers for the second quarter in a row ranked freedom of the press as the most at risk in an assessment of threats to freedoms protected under the First Amendment. The reviewers, including yours truly, gave press freedom another C in the second quarterly report card issued by the Newseum Institute, the center affiliated with the Newseum in Washington, DC that promotes the five freedoms of the First Amendment. Reviewers cited physical assaults on reporters and calls for prosecutions of journalists among other threats to journalists. Threats on journalists appear to be clearly on the minds of the American public. [More]

Newseum Institute survey: Public values independent press, concerned about leaks

Newseum Institute’s State of the First Amendment report A Newseum Institute survey on public attitudes toward the First Amendment shows the public still strongly and consistently supports the freedoms of the First Amendment. The survey found two-thirds of respondents (67.7%) agreed “the media should act as a watchdog of the government.” The percentage of respondents agreeing that the news media reports without bias nearly doubled to 43.1% from a year ago. Other results on topics of interest to the coalition: Unauthorized disclosures (“Leaks”). Respondents were not swayed that prosecutors should weigh the public interest from a disclosure when deciding to [More]

Daily Press Briefings are an important exercise in self-governance

Diminishing or eliminating the daily White House Press Briefing is a big mistake. In my childhood hometown, the longtime daily newspaper sits along one side of a wide open space that has been the home to civic protest, celebrations, food festivals and relaxed family picnics. Along another side of the town square sits another building of equal architectural and community significance, City Hall. The physical proximity of the newspaper and the seat of local government makes the greenspace a gathering point, a place where people from around the community exercise their First Amendment rights. The resulting civic-mindedness helps define the [More]