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Intelligence Directive Bars Unauthorized Contacts with News Media

The Director of National Intelligence has forbidden most intelligence community employees from discussing “intelligence-related information” with a reporter unless they have specific authorization to do so, according to an Intelligence Community Directive that was issued last month.

“IC employees… must obtain authorization for contacts with the media” on intelligence-related matters, and “must also report… unplanned or unintentional contact with the media on covered matters,” the Directive stated.

The new Directive reflects — and escalates — tensions between the government and the press over leaks of classified information. It is intended “to mitigate risks of unauthorized disclosures of intelligence-related matters that may result from such contacts.” See Intelligence Community Directive 119, Media Contacts, March 20, 2014.

Significantly, however, the new prohibition does not distinguish between classified and unclassified intelligence information. The “covered matters” that require prior authorization before an employee may discuss them with a reporter extend to any topic that is “related” to intelligence, irrespective of its classification status.

The Directive prohibits unauthorized “contact with the media about intelligence-related information, including intelligence sources, methods, activities, and judgments (hereafter, ‘covered matters’).”

If an employee’s contact with the media involves an unauthorized disclosure of classified information, then he could be subject to criminal prosecution. But even if classified information were not communicated to the reporter, the Directive indicates, violation of the new policy “at a minimum… will be handled in the same manner as a security violation.”

“IC employees who are found to be in violation of this IC policy may be subject to administrative actions that may include revocation of security clearance or termination of employment,” the Directive states.

The new Directive creates an anomalous situation in which routine interactions that are permissible between an intelligence employee and an ordinary member of the public are now to be prohibited if that member of the public qualifies as “media.”

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.

Meanwhile, the Directive defines membership in “the media” expansively. It is not necessary to be a credentialed reporter for an established news organization. It is sufficient to be “any person… engaged in the collection, production, or dissemination to the public of information in any form related to topics of national security….”

Moreover, even approved contacts are to be formally documented for future review. “IC elements should ensure their records on media contacts are sufficient to support executive and legislative branch oversight requirements.”

Essentially, the Directive seeks to ensure that the only contacts that occur between intelligence community employees and the press are those that have been approved in advance. Henceforward, the only news about intelligence is to be authorized news.

The IC policy bears some resemblance to a proposal that was advanced by the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2012, and then withdrawn in response to widespread criticism.

The Senate’s initial version of the FY2012 intelligence authorization act (Section 506) would have required that only specifically designated officials would be permitted to provide “background or off-the-record information regarding intelligence activities to the media.”

That provision would “lead to a less-informed debate on national security issues, by prohibiting nearly all intelligence agency employees from providing briefings to the press, unless those employees give their names and provide the briefing on the record,” said Sen. Ron Wyden at the time.

“I haven’t seen any evidence that prohibiting the intelligence agencies from providing these briefings would benefit national security in any way, so I see no reason to limit the flow of information in this manner,” he said then.

Likewise, there is no particular reason to think that routine interactions between intelligence agency employees and reporters — especially on unclassified matters — pose any kind of threat to national security, or that limiting them will offer any benefit. However, the new policy is likely to be effective in reducing the quality, independence and critical content of intelligence-related information that is available to the press and the public.

“I think we are going to make headway over the next few weeks on media leaks,” said outgoing National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander at an event on March 4. At the time, it was unclear what he was referring to, but he might have had the March 20 Intelligence Community Directive 119 in mind.

ODNI Rethinks Secrecy and Openness in Intelligence

By leaking classified intelligence documents, Edward Snowden transformed public awareness of the scale and scope of U.S. intelligence surveillance programs. But his actions are proving to be no less consequential for national security secrecy policy.

“These leaks have forced the Intelligence Community to rethink our approach to transparency and secrecy,” said Robert S. Litt, General Counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. He spoke at a March 18 Freedom of Information Day program sponsored by the Collaboration on Government Secrecy at American University Washington College of Law.

Mr. Litt made it clear that he did not approve of the Snowden leaks, which he said were unlawful and had “seriously damaged our national security.” Yet he stressed that the leaks have also prompted a reconsideration of previously accepted patterns of secrecy.

“We have had to reassess how we strike the balance between the need to keep secret the sensitive sources, methods and targets of our intelligence activities, and the goal of transparency with the American people about the rules and policies governing those activities.”

“One lesson that I have drawn from the recent events… is that we would likely have suffered less damage from the leaks had we been more forthcoming about some of our activities, and particularly about the policies and decisions behind those activities,” Mr. Litt said.  (Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made the same point to Eli Lake of the Daily Beast last month.)

“Going forward, I believe that the Intelligence Community is going to need to be much more forward-leaning in what we tell the American people about what we do,” Mr. Litt said. “We need to scrutinize more closely what truly needs to be classified in order to protect what needs to be protected. And we need to move beyond the mindset of merely reacting to formal requests that we make information public, to a mindset of proactively making available as much information as we can, consistent with the need to protect sources and methods.”

“Greater disclosure to the public is necessary to restore the American people’s trust that intelligence activities are not only lawful and important to protecting our national security, but that they are appropriate and proportional in light of the privacy interests at stake. In the long run, our ability to protect the public requires that we have the public’s support,” Mr. Litt said.

While Mr. Litt’s remarks conveyed an overall message of beneficence, responsiveness, and good citizenship, they also had some peculiar features.

It is disconcerting to realize that the reassessment of classification policy described by Mr. Litt was not prompted by the diligent exercise of congressional oversight or by judicial review or by ordinary advocacy. Rather it was explicitly inspired by the Snowden leaks, which Mr. Litt described as “criminal.” The upshot is that leaks emerge as a uniquely powerful tool for shaping intelligence classification policy, while conventional checks and balances appear all but irrelevant by comparison.

Moreover, the purpose of the newfound push for greater transparency seems to be instrumental, not principled. In other words, it is driven by tactical considerations, not by statutory requirements or any other objective norm.

“I strongly believe that the best way to prevent the damage that leakers can cause is by increased transparency on our part,” Mr. Litt said. “Transparency can both lessen the incentive for disaffected employees to disclose our activities improperly, and provide the public appropriate context to evaluate leaks when they occur.”

That implies that what is needed is only as much transparency as it takes to achieve these imprecise and transient goals. It is a unilateral move that can be unilaterally reversed.

And then there is the fact that Mr. Litt’s rethinking of classification policy implies no new institutional reforms or externally-imposed constraints. Instead, the very same people who have classified too much up to now are suddenly expected to change course and to disclose more. It is not immediately clear how or why that would happen.

“There is no question that overclassification of information is a genuine problem,” Mr. Litt said. “So how do we deal with the problem of overclassification? I think that there are three principal steps we can take.”

“The first is to change the culture. We need high-level management emphasis on the problem of overclassification,” he said. To his credit, Mr. Litt has helped provide such emphasis.

“Second, we need to continue our efforts at proactive transparency– at reviewing information that we have historically protected to see whether, in fact, the overall public interest would better be served by releasing the information.” Significantly, however, he refrained from providing specific performance goals or benchmarks by which future progress could be measured.

“Finally, I think that those in the agencies who are responsible for responding to FOIA requests, and who are representing the government in FOIA litigation, need to look critically at all potentially responsive documents that are classified,” Mr. Litt said. “We should focus not on whether we can protect information, but whether we should.”

This is an interesting formulation. Most FOIA officers do not have authority to declassify records, and the adversarial nature of the FOIA process is rarely conducive to self-critical analysis of established agency policies even by more senior officials. But sometimes it is.

In 1997, the Federation of American Scientists filed suit against the CIA for release of the intelligence budget total for that year. The CIA ultimately decided that it could not defend its position of classifying the figure, according to an internal draft statement that was prepared for DCI George Tenet and released by the Clinton Library just last week.

“In order to defend this lawsuit,” the Tenet statement read, “I, as head of the Intelligence Community, would have had to sign a declaration to the court that release of the figure in question could cause serious damage to the national security. I found that, in good conscience, I could not attest to that statement.”

But such judgments are fluid and can be fleeting. Two years later, in response to another lawsuit for the 1999 budget figure, Director Tenet had no trouble declaring under oath that “Disclosure of… the total appropriation reasonably could be expected to cause damage to the national security in several ways.”

So spontaneous gestures of openness and transparency, as welcome as they may be, are imperfect substitutes for systemic change and external accountability.

News organizations have now released some 1,300 pages of classified records leaked by Edward Snowden, according to a tally by cryptome.org.  In response, US intelligence agencies have declassified and disclosed approximately twice that many.

“Our commitment to increased transparency will continue,” Mr. Litt said.

Stephen Kim Pleads Guilty to Leak Charge

Former State Department contractor Stephen Kim pleaded guilty on Friday to one count of unauthorized disclosure of national defense information to a Fox News reporter. Following a sentencing hearing in April, he is expected to serve a 13 month term in prison. (WashPost, NYT, Politico).

The plea was an abrupt departure from previous defense strategy. As recently as last month, Mr. Kim’s attorneys had argued that it was “the defense’s theory that the alleged disclosure to Fox News emanated from senior officials at the National Security Council or the White House, and not from a lower level employee like Mr. Kim” (Defendant’s Seventh Motion to Compel, January 17, 2014, page 5).

But in a February 3 Statement of Offense signed by the defendant, Mr. Kim acknowledged that he had “orally disclosed to Reporter A [James Rosen of Fox News] TS//SCI national defense information… specifically about the military capabilities and preparedness of North Korea.”

The two positions are not necessarily contradictory. “Stephen did not reveal any intelligence ‘sources’ or ‘methods’,” said his defense attorney Abbe Lowell in a February 7 statement. “He did not provide any documents or electronic data to anyone. He did not pay for or receive payment for his actions.”

Moreover, Mr. Lowell said, “news reports from the same day demonstrate that Stephen was not the only government employee discussing the topic at issue. Stephen may have told the reporter what the reporter already knew from others, but Stephen was the only one charged.”

The case against Mr. Kim stemmed from a June 11, 2009 Fox News story (“North Korea Intends to Match U.N. Resolution With New Nuclear Test” by James Rosen).

That story stated that “Pyongyang’s next nuclear detonation is but one of four planned actions the Central Intelligence Agency has learned, through sources inside North Korea, that the regime of Kim Jong-Il intends to take….” The brief but startling reference to “sources inside North Korea” appeared to refer to CIA human intelligence sources within the DPRK, potentially placing any such sources at heightened risk.

If that short phrase had not been published, it is doubtful that the Fox News story would have triggered a full-fledged leak investigation, or that Mr. Kim would have been prosecuted as a result.

In other words, because Fox News reported and edited the story in such a questionable way, it deserves a share of the responsibility both for any compromise of U.S. intelligence capabilities that may have occurred, and for Mr. Kim’s unhappy fate. (As noted above, Mr. Kim’s defense denies that he revealed any intelligence sources and methods.)

Unfortunately, this kind of carelessness on the part of media organizations is not all that unusual, even among publications that are not avowedly antagonistic or “adversarial” towards U.S. intelligence.

“News organizations publishing leaked National Security Agency documents have inadvertently disclosed the names of at least six intelligence workers and other government secrets they never intended to give away,” according to the Associated Press (“Media sometimes try, fail to keep NSA’s secrets” by Raphael Satter, AP, February 8).

The 13 month prison sentence that Stephen Kim is expected to receive may be the least of the punishments he will have suffered. Merely to be accused and prosecuted under the Espionage Act can be practically unbearable.

Even before a final judgment has been rendered, his sister wrote, “He endured what would break a normal person, abandoned by his significant other, deserted by his ‘friends’, shunned by his former colleagues, [and] ostracized by society.”

But setting aside questions of fairness, proportionality and selective prosecution, there is a certain dignity in submitting to the judicial process and accepting the consequences of one’s actions.

“Stephen decided to take responsibility for his actions and move forward with his life,” wrote Abbe Lowell.

As we know, not everyone is prepared to do that. But it is not a new predicament.

In ancient Athens, friends of Socrates urged him to flee the country to escape an unjust punishment.

“For men will love you in other places to which you may go, and not in Athens only,” said Crito in Plato’s dialogue of that name. “There are friends of mine in Thessaly, if you like to go to them, who will value and protect you, and no Thessalian will give you any trouble.”

“Nor can I think that you are justified, Socrates, in betraying your own life when you might be saved; this is playing into the hands of your enemies and destroyers,” Crito added.

Upon consideration, however, Socrates refused to become a fugitive under those circumstances. He said he had “chosen the better and nobler part, instead of playing truant and running away, of enduring any punishment which the state inflicts” (Phaedo).

“The Athenians have thought fit to condemn me, and accordingly I have thought it better and more right to remain here and undergo my sentence,” Socrates said.

McCain Proposes New Select Committee on NSA Leaks

A resolution introduced yesterday by Sen. John McCain would establish a new Senate Select Committee to investigate the unauthorized disclosures of classified information on National Security Agency collection programs and their implications for national policy.

The McCain resolution is framed broadly and touches on many issues besides leaks, including intelligence policy, congressional oversight, the role of contractors, the constitutionality of current intelligence programs, and more.

The resolution asserts that “senior officials in the intelligence community may have misled Congress or otherwise obfuscated the nature, extent, or use of certain intelligence-collection programs, operations, and activities of the National Security Agency, including intelligence-collection programs affecting Americans.”

“[T]he provision of incomplete or inaccurate information by officials of the intelligence community has inhibited effective congressional oversight of certain intelligence-collection programs, operations, and activities of the National Security Agency, including intelligence-collection programs affecting Americans, and undermined congressional and public support of these programs,” the resolution stated.

Moreover, “some such programs, operations, and activities that are the subject matter of the unauthorized disclosures may not have been authorized, or may have exceeded that which was authorized, by law, or may not have been permitted under the Constitution of the United States.”

The proposed new select committee would investigate the unauthorized disclosures and assess how they occurred, the damage to U.S. national security that resulted, and how such damage could be mitigated.

The committee would review the role of intelligence contractors and the adequacy of current management controls.

The committee would evaluate the legality, constitutionality, and efficacy of the NSA collection programs that have been disclosed.

It would also consider “the need for greater transparency and more effective congressional oversight of intelligence community activities,” and whether existing laws are sufficient “to safeguard the rights and privacies of citizens of the United States.”

In proposing a new select committee, Senator McCain is implicitly declaring that existing oversight procedures are inadequate, and that a new, more fundamental approach is required. The prospects for the McCain proposal to become a reality are uncertain.

DNI Clapper: Transparency is the Way Forward

The primary lesson that emerges from the unauthorized disclosures of classified intelligence information by Edward Snowden is that U.S. intelligence agencies must be more transparent in their operations, said Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper yesterday.

“The major takeaway for us, certainly for me, from the past several months is that we must lean in the direction of transparency, wherever and whenever we can,” DNI Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“With greater transparency about these intelligence programs the American people may be more likely to accept them,” he said, promising “further declassification.”

Another possibility, he acknowledged, is that even with greater transparency the American people will choose not to accept certain kinds of intelligence programs.

“If dealing with reduced capacities is what we need to ensure the faith and confidence of the American people and their elected representatives, then we in the intelligence community will work as hard as we can to meet the expectations before us,” DNI Clapper said.

Already, the Snowden disclosures have caused “profound damage” to U.S. intelligence, the DNI said.

“What Snowden has stolen and exposed has gone way, way beyond his professed concerns with so-called domestic surveillance programs. As a result, we’ve lost critical foreign intelligence collection sources, including some shared with us by valued partners.”

“Snowden claims that he’s won and that his mission is accomplished. If that is so, I call on him and his accomplices to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents that have not yet been exposed to prevent even more damage to U.S. security,” the DNI said.

The use of the word “accomplices” appeared to suggest that the DNI views the journalists who possess and report on the Snowden documents as Snowden’s partners in crime, and even as criminals themselves.

“Is it now the official view of the Obama administration that these journalists and media outlets are ‘accomplices’ in what they regard as Snowden’s crimes? If so, that is a rather stunning and extremist statement,” wrote Glenn Greenwald, who first reported on the Snowden releases last June.

But though it has never yet figured in an actual prosecution, the issue of criminal liability for journalists in this area is embedded in the law.

It’s true that there is no general legal prohibition on publication of classified information. (Congress passed such a statute in 2000, but President Clinton vetoed it.)

But there is a clear and specific prohibition on the willful disclosure of classified communications intelligence information. And that prohibition, in 18 U.S.C. 798, extends also to anyone who “publishes” such information.

What is “stunning,” or at least noteworthy, is that the Obama Administration has apparently made a strategic decision not to attempt to enforce this provision of the law against publishers of the Snowden documents. (It was invoked against Snowden himself as one of the three counts in a June 14, 2013 criminal complaint.)

It seems that even what the DNI called “the most massive and most damaging theft of intelligence information in our history by Edward Snowden and the ensuing avalanche of revelations published and broadcast around the world” is not sufficient to trigger the use of the criminal statute against publishers of classified communications intelligence. So that provision is effectively a dead letter, even if it still finds a faint echo in the DNI’s testimony before Congress.

HPSCI Seeks “Continuous Evaluation” of Security-Cleared Employees

Recent unauthorized disclosures of classified information might have been prevented if U.S. intelligence agencies “continuously evaluated the backgrounds of employees and contractors,” according to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI).

In its new report on the FY 2014 intelligence authorization bill, the Committee would require intelligence agencies to “continuously determine whether their employees and contractors are eligible for access to classified information” by using all available transactional records and social media.

“Continuous evaluation allows the IC to take advantage of lawfully available government and public information to detect warning signals that the current system of five-year periodic reinvestigation misses,” the HPSCI report said.

“That information might include: foreign travel; reports of foreign contacts financial disclosure information; checks of criminal, commercial marketing, and credit databases; and other appropriate publicly available information.”

The recently developed concept of continuous evaluation (CE) “allows for a review at any time of an individual with eligibility or access to classified information or in a sensitive position to ensure that that individual continues to meet the requirements for eligibility,” said Brian Prioletti of the ODNI National Counterintelligence Executive at a November 13 hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee.

“As envisioned in the reformed security clearance process, [continuous evaluation] includes automated record checks of commercial databases, government databases, and other information lawfully available,” Mr. Prioletti said. “Manual checks are inefficient and resource-intensive. The C.E. initiative currently under development will enable us to more reliably determine an individual’s eligibility to hold a security clearance or a sensitive position on an ongoing basis.”

“There are a number of ongoing pilot studies to assess the feasibility of selected automated record checks and the utility of publicly available electronic information to include social media sites in the personnel security process,” he added.

“While we fully recognize the value of publicly available electronic information and its relevancy from an adjudicative perspective, there are resource, privacy, and civil liberty concerns that must be addressed as we incorporate such checks into our security processes,” Mr. Prioletti acknowledged.

Up Next: Continuous Monitoring

“Continuous evaluation” itself is just an interim stage, said Gregory Marshall, chief security officer at the Department of Homeland Security.  It is a stepping stone to the desired end state of “continuous monitoring,” which involves more extensive collection directed at the individual subject. [Update: This is a non-standard use of the term "continuous monitoring," which normally refers to monitoring of information systems, not persons.]

“This administration’s recent information-sharing and safeguarding initiative, also known as Insider Threat, seeks to complement background investigations and continuous evaluation with continuous monitoring,” Mr. Marshall said. “This program will incorporate and analyze data in near-real time from a much broader set of sources. Its focus is the protection of classified information but its applicability to suitability and contractor fitness is evident.”

Indeed, the “applicability” of this approach to all sorts of concerns is evident. If leaks of national security information are deemed to be a counterintelligence threat, why wouldn’t the full arsenal of surveillance tools, including the NSA’s PRISM, be employed against them?

An NSA memorandum reported in the Huffington Post today noted that “vulnerabilities of character” revealed through intelligence gathering can be effectively used to discredit individual “radicalizers.”  In one particularly horrifying case, it was found that a suspect “publishes articles without checking facts.” (“Top-Secret Document Reveals NSA Spied On Porn Habits As Part Of Plan To Discredit ‘Radicalizers’,” by Glenn Greenwald, Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim, November 26).

The Director of National Intelligence recently ordered a review to see whether the number of persons who hold security clearances — nearly 5 million persons — could be reduced. (“Obama Administration Looks to Scrub Security Clearance List” by Josh Gerstein, Politico, November 21).

That objective could be inadvertently advanced by efforts to ratchet up personnel security procedures. Facing continuous evaluation and the prospect of continuous monitoring, some individuals might decide to opt out of the security clearance system voluntarily.

Leaks Divide Supporters, Opponents of Media Shield Bill

A bill that is intended to strengthen the ability of reporters to protect their confidential sources would encourage damaging leaks of classified information, congressional opponents argue.

The Free Flow of Information Act (S. 987) was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 12 by a vote of 13-5.  The Committee’s report on the bill, which includes a lengthy dissent from several Republican Senators, was published late last week.

The Act would establish a “qualified” reporter’s privilege whose application would be limited in several respects.

So, for example, the privilege would not apply to “information obtained as a result of the journalist’s eyewitness observation of an alleged crime, or as a result of alleged criminal conduct by the journalist.” However, the Act’s protections would apply to leaks (“when the communication of the material is itself the alleged criminal conduct”).

But even with respect to leaks, the privilege would not be absolute, and disclosure of confidential source information could be required by a court under some circumstances, including the prevention of terrorism.

“In cases that involve alleged unauthorized disclosures of properly classified information (‘leaks’), the Act allows a court to compel the disclosure of confidential-source information where disclosure would assist in preventing or mitigating an act of terrorism or acts that are reasonably likely to cause significant and articulable harm to national security,” the new Committee report explained.

The bill’s limited scope of protection would “give generous berth for the Government to obtain the vital information that it needs in order to protect public safety,” the Committee report said. “At the same time, these provisions prevent journalists from becoming the witnesses of choice in civil and criminal cases.”

The Free Flow of Information Act has been criticized by some press freedom advocates because it presumes to define who is — and who is not — a covered journalist that is protected by the Act; or because it would actually validate official measures to compel disclosure of sources in some cases.

But neither these ambiguities nor the bill’s cautiously even-handed approach were sufficient to reassure opponents on the Senate Committee, who insisted that the legislation would wrongly protect leakers and foster more leaks.

“Instead of making it easier for investigators and prosecutors to bring to justice those who would imperil our national security, the Committee has endorsed legislation that would do the exact opposite by explicitly protecting leakers of classified information and increasing the burden on those who seek to bring these leakers to justice,” wrote Senators Jeff Sessions and John Cornyn in a dissenting statement appended to the Committee report.

“The cumulative effect of this burden would cripple the government’s ability to identify and prosecute leakers of classified information, and in the process would encourage more leaks that threaten national security.”

The bill “severely hinders the government’s ability to identify the sources of leaked classified information,” they complained. “Sources that hide behind journalists’ promises of confidentiality in order to perpetrate wrongdoings, such as the leaking of classified information, will receive protection under S. 987.”

In short, from the opponents’ perspective, “This bill sets forth special standards that place protecting a leaker’s identity ahead of the safety and security of the country.”

“It is axiomatic that if Congress protects leakers of classified and other sensitive information by passing S. 987, what will result is more leaks of classified information.”

“S. 987 will encourage leakers of classified or grand jury information to get away with clear violations of federal law, so long as the recipient of the information promises to keep the leaker’s identity a secret.”

“An individual who leaks classified or grand jury information commits a grievous crime and does not deserve the protection afforded by a journalist’s successful assertion of privilege. If leakers of classified or grand jury information are protected under S. 987, we believe that more leaks will result and it will be harder to prosecute them,” the dissenting Senators wrote.

Subpoena proceedings against reporter James Risen in the leak prosecution of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling have been stayed at Risen’s request pending a petition on the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Stephen Kim Leak Case Heats Up

Although former State Department contractor Stephen Jin-Woo Kim will not go to trial before next year on charges of leaking classified information to Fox News reporter James Rosen, the pre-trial maneuvering by the prosecution and the defense is accelerating.

Prosecutors notified the court last week that their theories regarding the defendant’s motive for allegedly leaking classified information would not be presented at trial.  Meanwhile, the defense appears to be engaged in its own search for other potential leak suspects.

The prosecution had previously said it “planned to rely on three motive theories at trial.” But when the Court ruled that the defense was entitled to discovery of classified information regarding those theories, the government reconsidered its position.

“Because of the Intelligence Community equities implicated by the Court’s ruling, the United States hereby gives notice that it has elected not to rely on these motive theories at trial, thereby eliminating the basis for the defendant’s classified discovery demands related to motive…,” prosecutors said in an October 18 filing.

In another filing this week, the parties described a novel procedure they agreed upon by which the government would perform a search for a series of telephone numbers supplied by the defense– apparently in pursuit of alternate suspects or other exculpatory information.

“Defense counsel will provide … a list of telephone numbers, or telphone area codes and exchanges” and an independent team of reviewers “will compare the defendant’s list with the two days of government commercial telephone records… If any number on the defendant’s list overlaps with any number in the government commercial telephone records, the filter team will inform counsel for both parties…. If that comparison yields any hits, then the parties will discuss how to proceed,” the October 21 joint notice said.

In a Report on Review of News Media Policies last July, the Department of Justice had expressed its first hint of ambivalence about leak prosecutions, and had said that it would consider administrative penalties as an alternative to criminal trials:

“The Department will work with others in the Administration to explore ways in which the intelligence agencies themselves, in the first instance, can address information leaks internally through administrative means, such as the withdrawal of security clearances and imposition of other sanctions,” the Report said.

But no one should infer that there will be any discernable change in current or pending criminal trials.  “The DOJ Report does not purport to take a litigation position in this legal proceeding or any other,” prosecutors said in a September 30 filing in the Kim case.

In leak prosecutions, the punitive phase of the proceeding need not await the actual conviction of the defendant; it starts, in effect, right away.

“This has been a huge blow for me and for my entire family,” said Stephen Kim in an interview with the Korean publication The Hankyoreh on October 11. “I had to give up a job that I had liked. It also destroyed my marriage. My family had to spend all of the money they had saved up and even sell their house to pay my legal fees. I hardly have any remaining assets. Being brought to court and knowing that people believe I did something I didn’t actually do is a hurtful and painful experience. You cannot imagine what it’s like to be charged with a crime you didn’t commit,” he said.

Yesterday New York Times reporter James Risen sought a stay of a Fourth Circuit appeals court ruling that would require him to testify regarding a confidential source in the leak trial of former CIA official Jeffrey Sterling. He indicated his intent to petition the Supreme Court for relief. “The Government said that it takes no position on whether a stay should be granted.”

Dept of Defense to Report on “Authorized Leaks”

A new Department of Defense directive requires the Pentagon to notify Congress whenever a DoD official discloses classified intelligence to a reporter on an authorized basis, or declassifies the information specifically for release to the press.

The new directive on “Congressional Notification for Authorized Public Disclosure of Intelligence Information” applies to all components of the Department of Defense.

It was issued last week — despite the government shutdown — in response to a provision in the FY2013 Intelligence Authorization Act (section 504) that was passed by Congress last year as part of an effort to stem leaks of classified information.

The Senate Intelligence Committee explained then:  “This provision is intended to ensure that the intelligence committees are made aware of authorized disclosures of national intelligence or intelligence related to national security that are made to media personnel or likely to appear in the press, so that, among other things, these authorized disclosures may be distinguished from unauthorized ‘leaks’.”

Notification to Congress is required whenever the intelligence that is disclosed “is currently classified or if it is declassified for the purpose of the disclosure,” the directive states.  The reporting requirement does not apply to regular declassification activities, or to releases under the Freedom of Information Act or through litigation.

The new requirement casts a spotlight on the anomalous category of authorized disclosures of classified information, which would normally be considered a contradiction in terms.

Although there is an allowance for emergency disclosures of classified information in order to address an imminent threat (section 4.2b of executive order 13526), there is no recognized authority for non-emergency disclosures of classified intelligence to the press or to anyone who does not hold a security clearance and who has not signed a non-disclosure agreement. (Perhaps a lawyerly reading of the executive order would say that the prohibition against unauthorized disclosures of classified information to an uncleared person does not apply if the disclosure is authorized.)

In any case, official disclosures of classified information to the press — sometimes described as “authorized leaks” — are known to occur with some regularity.

What is unclear is what impact, if any, the new DoD directive will have on daily interactions with the press.  Will the Secretary of Defense actually file a report to Congress if he privately reveals a classified fact to a reporter?  That’s a little hard to imagine, though that’s what the law demands.  Or will the new reporting obligation instead serve to discourage authorized leaks to the press?

Because Congress imposed a one-year sunset on its new reporting requirement, the new DoD directive will expire on January 14, 2014, three months from now, unless it is renewed.  It will be interesting to see if even a single report of an authorized disclosure of classified intelligence is filed by then.