April 25, 2014–The spy chieftains who run U.S. intelligence are terrified. Not of the North Koreans, or Syrians, or Chinese. Not at the old “Axis of Evil.” Not even with Vladimir Putin’s suddenly muscular diplomacy in the Ukraine. No, the spy mavens are terrified of their own spooks–and of what they might say. I commented here earlier (“U.S. Intelligence Turned Inside Out,” February 5, 2014) at how scary it is that General James Clapper and other American spy chiefs seemingly regard whistleblowers, more than foreign enemies, as principal threats to United States national security. Their concern has now assumed concrete form, far beyond simply asserting before Congress that there may be a problem with leaks.
On March 20 Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, promulgated an order to affect everyone who works for any of our spy agencies. Called Intelligence Community Directive 119, the order says its purpose is “to ensure a consistent approach for addressing media engagement . . . and to mitigate the risks of unauthorized disclosures of intelligence related matters.” To achieve these goals Directive 119 orders that no one who works for U.S. intelligence is to have any contact with the media other than designated officials.
Before we go any farther I want to make a point that deserves to be repeated from every rooftop: General Clapper and his minions are substituting their own interests, narrow and parochial, for the national interest. They are either confused about what endangers national security, or they seek to use the public’s deference to that concept to avoid the very conversation America needs to be having right now.
To wit, Directive 119 designates agency directors, their deputies, their PR spin doctors, and those individuals asked by a director to do so as the only persons who can be in contact with the media. In other words, all information is to be authorized information–all vanilla, nothing controversial. Even better, not only will intelligence officers have to obtain advance permission to be in touch with media, they are also required to report casual contacts. And approval of a contact by the higher-ups, under Directive 119 does not imply the inclusion of any follow-up conversation.
This is a formula that affords spy chieftains complete ability to manipulate: they approve the medium, they approve the message, and if later on they decide a mistake was made they can retroactively construe a contact as unauthorized. Those ruled guilty of infractions under the directive can be fired or have their security clearances revoked, which pretty much amounts to the same thing, and then be referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.
Moreover Directive 119 defines “media” so widely that the spooks can construe almost anyone as the enemy– “media is any person, organization or entity” that engages in informing the public “in any form,” and–I love this one–is “otherwise engaged in the collection, production, or dissemination to the public of information in any form related to topics of national security.” If you and I discuss on our I-phones U.S. trade policy in certain areas (which are now considered matters of national security) we are “media.”
This is as chilling as imaginable. Intelligence officers abandon their First Amendment rights as a condition of employment–illegal on the face of it. And the aim at whistleblowers is plainly revealed in Paragraph 8 of the directive, which goes out of its way to specify that employees have avenues (other than going to the media) to report unlawful, abusive, fraudulent, or wasteful activities. To add to the message DNI Clapper devotes an entire order, Directive 120 (which has not been made public), to layering on details of those avenues. Of course, the current situation is that action through channels is often sterile because agency officials have vested interests in their programs. A number of CIA and NSA whistleblowers have been prosecuted for reporting waste, fraud, and abuse; the very reason Edward Snowden chose to go to the media. I predict that Directive 119 will have a disastrous effect on intelligence agency morale.
Director Clapper has a tin ear. When Congress asked about NSA dragnet eavesdropping he lied about it. (Congress, by the way, is an “entity” that engages in the collection and dissemination of information on national security.) Later he reflected that if he’d just come clean there wouldn’t have been a problem. President Obama had to order Clapper to declassify and make public legal documents in support of the NSA’s version of the reality. Now, with public confidence in U.S. intelligence at a nadir–because of agencies’ actions, not the media’s reporting of them–Clapper goes after his own employees. The spooks cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that national security–the very existence of their agencies–is threatened by their actions and not by the media’s reporting. They prefer to think that shooting the messenger eliminates the problem. What they should be doing is building public confidence with openness and transparency. Instead we get Directive 119. I have the paperback edition of The Family Jewels coming out shortly. In it I propose a solution for this mess. Take a look at it.