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In a clear extension of the war on whistleblowers, led by the Obama administration's record-setting number of Espionage Act prosecutions for alleged mishandling of classification, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper issued a draconian directive barring employees from "unauthorized contact" with the media.

It is more than a little ridiculous for Clapper to be restricting what the public knows about its government when it is Clapper and the other leaders of the Intelligence Community who have been responsible for systematically misleading, misdirecting, and outright lying to the public about the U.S. government's surveillance activities. Exhibit A is of course the now infamous exchange between Clapper and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) where Clapper described himself being the "least untruthful" he could be.

Under Clapper's regime, the press and the public will have to settle for Executive branch talking points, which may be truthful or, if history is any lesson, will more likely be at least somewhat untruthful if not drastically misleading.

Predictably, Clapper & company are billing the draconian clamp-down on employee speech - and consequently, on the press - as a way to protect national security by preventing damaging disclosure of national security secrets.

However, even in the cases where the government's claims of damage to national security have been most hyperbolic - Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden - the government has failed to show that any specific harm to national security resulted from the revelations.

And, the directive doesn't distinguish between classified and unclassified information, therefore it punishes and considers a security threat employees discussing "intelligence-related activities" even if unclassified. As Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists points out, the Directive defines both "media" and "intelligence-related information" so broadly, that an employee could run afoul of it simply by chatting with their next door neighbor:

So under most circumstances, an intelligence community employee is at liberty to discuss unclassified “intelligence-related information” with his or her next-door neighbor. But if the neighbor happened to be a member of the media, then the contact would be prohibited altogether without prior authorization.
Given that millions of documents are classified every year and everyone from the White House to Congress to the public agrees that the intelligence agencies routinely over-classify information, it is absurd for Clapper to imply that even sharing unclassified information would somehow damage national security. When the government has legitimate secret, the disclosure of which would endanger national security - such as covert identities and nuclear launch codes - then that information is properly classified.

The Directive's true purpose is to control the message and chill employee speech rather than to protect national security, and such an undemocratic purpose flies in the face of the First Amendment-protected freedoms of speech and the press.

The Executive branch, and intelligence community in particular, conveniently forgets that the First Amendment (and long-standing Supreme Court precedent - Pickering v. Bd. of Education, 391 US 563 (1968)) protect employees from government intrusion on their free speech rights.

If Clapper was really interested in stopping whistleblowers from going public then he would prioritize creating effective, safe internal channels for whistleblowers, not dictatorial measures aimed at chilling speech. Or, even more simply, if the Intelligence Community stopped breaking the law and the lying to Congress and the public about it, whistleblowers would have no revelations to take to the media.

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