The Free Press, Mankato, MN


June 25, 2014

Gag order on intelligence is overreach

Why it matters: An overly broad order from intelligence agencies could stifle debate about subjects like going to war

An order from U.S. intelligence hierarch that no intelligence employees ever talk to a member of the media is so broad it threatens important debate about matters that increasingly are of great concern to American privacy and security.

The Director of National Intelligence barred the vast majority of employees from ever talking to a reporter about “intelligence related matters.” Employees must get authorization first. That may not seem like an onerous directive. Afterall, agencies fair and wide as well as public corporations manage their public relations.

But what many in the media and some in Congress object to is the broad nature of the directive. It bars intelligence employees from talking about even “unclassified” information, that information one could find in myriad public reports on library shelves.

It’s reasonable to have restriction on who will talk about classified information, although as we have seen with the Edward Snowden case, much of that information, if kept secret, can be extremely detrimental to American Civil Liberties.

Even more ridiculous, the order as written would allow an intelligence community employee to discuss unclassified — again reports that can be found in the library – with a next door neighbor, but not if that person somehow fit the criteria of “member of the media,” according to a report by the Federation of American Scientists.

People like Sen. Ron Wyden, D, Oregon, see the folly in this kind of overreach.

He spoke on the Senate floor of the matter on June 12, noting “The new policy makes it clear that intelligence agency employees can be punished for having ‘contact with the media about intelligence-related information,” and was so broad it would have chilling effect on people knowledgeable about intelligence strategies from discussing even basic issues like “domestic surveillance or whether the country should go to war.”

Wyden was aiming to overturn the overly broad order. There needs to be a balance between intelligence gathering and public information management and complete gag orders that would stifle all public discussion about issues that have a great impact on the taxpayers.

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