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]
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 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]
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]
President-elect Trump used Twitter to announce he asked the House and Senate intelligence committees to identify who provided to NBC News a memorandum outlining the intelligence community’s assessment of efforts by the Russian government to influence the presidential election. A threat of an investigation by Congress into unauthorized disclosures to the news media should be taken seriously. As has been widely reported, the report obtained by NBC the version for public release, not the classified version with sensitive details describing how the information was compiled. Reporting based in part on unauthorized disclosures is at times a useful way to put together an accurate picture of key events [More]
Unnamed sources can undermine an audience’s belief that a story is true. It’s good for an audience to be skeptical. Here’s how veteran journalists use unnamed sources and ensure they are reporting factual information by relying on multiple sources to get the story right.
The Sunshine in Government Initiative strongly objects to Intelligence Community Directive 119 (ICD 119), which bans all but pre-approved contacts between the intelligence community and journalists and others who disseminate news and analysis. The Directive has the practical effect of discouraging interactions with the media about unclassified issues that have nothing to do with national security and are the basis for the daily news about what is happening around the globe. Such conversations routinely take place without risking intelligence sources and methods. The Directive cuts the flow of everyday news and leaves the public with fewer tools to understand and [More]
The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2014 (CISA), released as a draft by Chairman Dianne Feinstein on June 17 and soon to be considered by the Senate Intelligence Committee, would threaten the flow of accurate news and information to the public and policymakers. The bill would allow government agencies to collect, without a warrant or other traditional legal process, journalists’ phone and other records if the government considers the journalists or their sources threats to the security of information stored on computer networks. In a letter sent to the Senate intelligence Committee today, the Sunshine in Government Initiative pointed out [More]
With the recent surveillance leaks in mind, we want to call attention to a collection of “best practices” for journalists reporting on national-security issues which New York Times reporter Adam Clymer laid out as part of a larger report a couple years after the attacks of 9/11; this is a condensed version of Clymer’s summary (from SGI director Rick Blum’s recent Roll Call op-ed): Carefully consider the consequences of publishing. Take government concerns seriously. Check sources. Tell readers when making agreements with governments regarding what stays in (or is left out of) a story. Now, 2003 is a decade – [More]
In Guest Commentary on RollCall.com this morning, we give concrete ways the government should better engage with journalists on stories based on unauthorized disclosures (“leaks”). We argue that when reporters bring stories to agencies on national security and foreign affairs where they may be some sensitive information in the story, the reporters take seriously their obligation to mitigate against possible harms from any disclosures. The government, too, has an obligation to engage the press when these stories are brought to officials to avoid possible harms from such stories. The entire commentary is available here.