CPJ’s Report on Obama Administration and the Press

The Committee to Protest Journalists has just released a report entitled, “The Obama Administration and the Press: Leak Investigations and surveillance in post-9/11 America.”

It goes into great detail on a number of leak prosecutions, their implications, and several other issues related to the administrations actions and their effects on a free press. It covers

legal policies of the Obama administration that disrupt relationships between journalists and government sources; the surveillance programs that cast doubt on journalists’ ability to protect those sources; restrictive practices for disclosing information that make it more difficult to hold the government accountable for its actions and decision-making; and manipulative use of administration-controlled media to circumvent scrutiny by the press.

Here is a startling statistic:

Six government employees, plus two contractors including Edward Snowden, have been subjects of felony criminal prosecutions since 2009 under the 1917 Espionage Act, accused of leaking classified information to the press—compared with a total of three such prosecutions in all previous U.S. administrations. Still more criminal investigations into leaks are under way.

Here are a few highlights of the report:

“This is the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered,” said David E. Sanger, veteran chief Washington correspondent of The New York Times.

Washington Post national security reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a member of CPJ’s board of directors, told me that “one of the most pernicious effects is the chilling effect created across government on matters that are less sensitive but certainly in the public interest as a check on government and elected officials. It serves to shield and obscure the business of government from necessary accountability.”

The Insider Threat Program being implemented throughout the Obama administration to stop leaks—first detailed by the McClatchy newspapers’ Washington bureau in late June—has already “created internal surveillance, heightened a degree of paranoia in government and made people conscious of contacts with the public, advocates, and the press,” said a prominent transparency advocate, Steven Aftergood, director of the Government Secrecy Project at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington.

Michael Hayden, who was director of the NSA and then the CIA during the Bush administration, told me that, in his view, the unfolding Insider Threat Program “is designed to chill any conversation whatsoever.”

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