A new anti-leak measure approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee would make it illegal for intelligence analysts to discuss unclassified national security issues off-the-record, according to the Washington Post.The twelve provisions in the 2013 Intelligence Authorization Act are meant to deal with the problem of unauthorised disclosures of classified information, and are the result of outcry over recent high-profile security leaks to the news media from the Obama administration about the U.S. drone program, cyberattacks against Iran and U.S. counterterrorism operations.
But one provision goes as far as outlawing the long-held practice of intelligence analysts occasionally providing reporters with background briefings of unclassified information.
“It’s terrible for transparency,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan centre for Justice, said. “It goes so much further than what would be necessary to deal with the problem of leaks of classified information.”
If the Senate bill passes Congress, only the director, deputy director and designated public affairs officials of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies would be allowed to discuss intelligence activities with the media. Analysts can speak on the record – which is rarely done given the subject matter – but would no longer be able to be identified by government position and not by name.
“It makes sure that information is tightly controlled through approved channels so that the public hears only what agency leadership wants the public to hear about the governments intelligence activities, including on unclassified matters,” Goitein said.
Pressed by reporters this week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, could not cite any evidence that the off-the-record briefings led to any of the classified leaks – seeing as many of those leaks would have had to be approved by President Obama – saying only that leaks “put people’s lives in jeopardy and the families of people in jeopardy.”
Goitein doesn’t buy that line of reasoning because “the fact that the public now knows that the president is personally involved in deciding who should be targeted for drone strikes” has clearly not harmed national security. She referred to Feinstein’s remarks as a situation in which “someone is saying ‘The sky is falling – trust me’ and the sky isn’t falling.”
Goitein – who thinks the bill will ultimately pass close to its current form because it “will be considered a much more measured version of anti-leaks legislation that could have been adopted” – said that “it’s hard to look at the provision … and not see it as an anti-whistleblower provision” because they goes so far to stifle discussion of unclassified information.
The bill must be passed by the full Senate and is under review by the House Intelligence Committee.
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