Today's report from the New York Times about the FBI's ongoing investigation into leaks about America's cyber attacks on Iranian computer systems, a foiled terror plot in Yemen, as well as the president's drone war "kill list" describes a chilling effect that's come as a result. From the Times:
"People are being cautious," said one intelligence official who, considering the circumstances, spoke on condition of anonymity. "We're not doing some of the routine things we usually do," he added, referring to briefings on American security efforts and subjects in the news.
And legislation is working its way through the Senate that would formalize a clampdown:
The legislation approved last week by the Senate Intelligence Committee would reduce to a handful the number of people at each agency permitted to speak to reporters on "background," or condition of anonymity; require notice to the Senate and House intelligence committees of authorized disclosures of intelligence information; and permit the government to strip the pension of an intelligence officer who illegally discloses classified information.
Stripping pensions is a big deal, given all the circumstances in which disgraced government employees get to keep theirs. Congressmen can do prison time and still collect princely benefits. BUT DON'T TALK TO THE PRESS.
Unless, of course, it makes the government look good. The Times again:
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, suggested that the F.B.I. was foot-dragging and should zero in on high-level Obama administration officials.
Mr. McCain said he was "frankly puzzled" that investigators were taking so long, since the relevant articles and books cited "a relatively small number of senior officials."
Leaks about Operation Neptune Spear, the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, are not mentioned in the Times, and do not appear to be part of the FBI investigation.
Interestingly, the only senator to vote against the anti-leaks legislation on the Intelligence Committee is Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who has said that if Americans knew how the government was interpreting its already expansive surveillance powers they would be "stunned".
The main backer of the anti-leaks legislation is Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who is pressing for prosecuting Julian Assange for the various government leaks disseminated by Wikileaks. As Glenn Greenwald and others have noted, there's not a substantive difference in what Wikileaks and the New York Times do, in so far as a free press is concerned.
A judge recently ruled that the government can continue to consider all State Department cables released by Wikileaks as classified. The president's first term has less than six months left to go, yet through most of it the White House acted as if its expansive and troubling intercontinental drone war was secret, even when the president himself talked about it.
All this would be bad enough without the president's promise to lead the most transparent administration in history. Worse, still, is its continued insistence that it is indeed committed to transparency. Somebody call the truth team.