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FBI Tightens Restrictions On Personnel Communications With Media To Clampdown On Leaks

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has imposed further restrictions on FBI personnel in an effort to crackdown on leaks.

According to CNN, unnamed officials in the Bureau said the “overhaul” will “underscore that media contacts are limited to those managers in charge of the field offices, in addition to designated public relations employees and others given specific authorization.”

CNN suggested this policy reverses a trend toward wider access to top officials at the FBI. Director James Comey had sought to “demystify” the FBI and spread more information about the FBI’s mission.

The development fits into a larger trend within national security agencies that has unfolded in the aftermath of the publication of documents by WikiLeaks and whistleblowing by individuals like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.

On March 20, 2014, Director For National Intelligence signed a policy for “contact with the media” that sought to curb “unauthorized disclosures of intelligence-related matters.” It did not differentiate between classified and unclassified material.

While the policy apparently did not “apply to contact with the media in connection with civil, criminal or administrative proceedings,” anyone who violated the policy was subject to “administrative action that may include revocation of security clearance” or termination from their job.

Like the new FBI policy, intelligence agency heads were to “designate in writing” the “positions that [were] authorized to speak with the media.”

The incorporation of such secrecy measures is intended to tighten the grip of agencies over information. It also ensures what the press publishes will most likely be favorable to agencies. In other words, the intent is to make it harder for reporters to engage in investigative journalism and easier for correspondents like Barbara Starr to do stenography and nonchalantly spread government propaganda.

The FBI media policy further solidifies a system of authorized disclosures that agencies and politicians increasingly favor.

Authorized disclosures are what have fueled the routine obfuscations of the nature of the U.S. surveillance state at “IC on the Record.” It is what led media to incorrectly believe that 54 terrorism plots were thwarted by a National Security Agency phone records collection program. It is what led Clapper to give what he called the “least untruthful answer” when asked by Senator Ron Wyden if the NSA was collecting millions of records of Americans.

This kind of arrangement has a chilling effect on lower level employees, who media may want to have as sources to determine when and how frequently managers at the top of the FBI are lying or spreading disinformation.

Supposedly, the decision has nothing to do with the number of stories on investigations into President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign or former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton that were published in the past months. However, it is well-known that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a deep disgust for leaks.

Sessions expressed support for arresting WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange on April 20.

“We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks,” Sessions declared. “This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious.

“We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail,” Sessions added.

This willingness to jail journalists whose sources are involved in unauthorized disclosures, along with the tightening of media policies, is all representative of trends in national security agencies over the past seven years.

Moreover, all too often it is high-ranking officials, who are responsible for the most leaking of sensitive information. People like former CIA director Leon Panetta and former CIA director David Petraeus were implicated in leaks. Petraeus managed to use his status in government to avoid jail time and a serious prosecution.

President Barack Obama despised leaks. His administration oversaw innovations in leak investigations, leak prosecutions, and government secrecy. And now, President Donald Trump has an administration that can take full advantage of tools at their disposal.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."