Media

Don't Look Now, But Your Government Is Leaking

As Trump takes over, it won't get any easier to keep a lid on leakers.

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U.S. Navy

The leaks have been a flood in Washington this week. Vox has published the drafts of what appear to four pending White House executive orders. Other leaked documents floating around range from a draft list of infrastructure projects to an "agency action" plan for the EPA. The New York Times has revealed a proposal to lift the ban on Black Site prisons, though the provenance of that one isn't completely clear. And a rather large number of Donald Trump's senior aides have been telling reporters unflattering anecdotes about the boss.

Meanwhile, press outlets from The Washington Post to ProPublica to The Intercept have published how-to-leak-to-us guides. (The Intercept's post is headlined "Attention Federal Employees: If You See Something, Leak Something.") Wikileaks, naturally, has been tweeting reminders that its doors are open.

So I agree with my colleague Ron Bailey when he suggests that Trump could "succeed brilliantly in making government leaks great again." But let's be clear: We were on that track already. Trump is just accelerating the train.

Back in 2010, Bruce Schneier wrote that "the government is learning what the music and movie industries were forced to learn years ago: it's easy to copy and distribute digital files." People can get so focused on an individual leak—or a venue for leaks, in Wikileaks' case—that they miss that bigger picture. It is easier than ever to make information public. In the age of social media, you don't even necessarily require a reporter as an intermediary, though it helps. The risks remain real, as Chelsea Manning could tell you, but the cautious whistleblower can reveal a lot without getting caught.

The news consumer still needs to distinguish real material from disinformation, to sift good analysis from spin, to remember the difference between a draft and a settled plan, and to be on the lookout for a source's agenda. (A leaker with a dicey agenda can still reveal legitimate information, of course. Mark "Deep Throat" Felt fed facts about Watergate to The Washington Post for utterly self-interested reasons, but the information was still illuminating.) In other words, we don't just need leaks to be well-informed. We need basic media literacy.

But that's always been the case. It's just that now we'll have a lot more places to apply those media literacy skills.

Bonus link: "The Age of Easy Leaks."

NEXT: Adam Smith, not Winston Smith

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  1. And a rather large number of Donald Trump’s senior aides have been telling reporters unflattering anecdotes about the boss.

    It’s all part of the plan. Float trial balloons about upcoming policy proposals and flood the news cycle with irrelevant palace intrigue.

  2. The news consumer still needs to distinguish real material from disinformation

    So does the news provider.

    1. Oh that’s easy for the provider-

      Does it make Trump look bad regardless of how insane it sounds? EXTRA TRUTHY!!! STOP THE PRESSES!!!

      Does it make Trump look like he’s doing something that will benefit the US? PROPAGANDA DELIBERATELY LEAKED TO HIDE THE REAL TRUTH

    2. If you follow the link from Welch’s self-admitted fuckup, LA Times still hasn’t corrected the glaring inaccuracy (Matt did).

      At that point, it’s deliberate.

    3. Exactly. If I were in Trump’s shoes, I’d be leaking false but salacious information left and right to crowd out any real leaks from enemies in the executive branch.

  3. press outlets from The Washington Post to ProPublica to The Intercept have published how-to-leak-to-us guides

    I guess it’s great that they’re doing their fucking job again.

    1. So unfair! They were always doing their job – comfort the afflicted (Democrats) and afflict the comfortable (Republicans).

  4. More reasons to fire people!

  5. Super Swan got his hands on the Trump team’s “Agency Action” plan for the EPA. It’s a tightly-held document that fleshes out Trump’s campaign promises to gut the agency. It’s the handiwork of Myron Ebell, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Energy and Environment. Trump appointed Ebell, a prominent opponent of climate change activists, to lead the EPA transition.

    Our takeaway: Environmental Protection Agency is set for an absolute hammering under Trump.

    The deets:

    ?”Potential opportunities for budget reductions”: A category that includes $513 million in cuts to the “states and tribal assistance grants” ? $193 million in savings from terminating climate programs ? $109 million in savings from “environment programs and management.”

    Listed as initiatives to stop: “Clean Air Act greenhouse gas regulations for new (NSPS) and existing (ESPS or the ‘Clean Power’ Plan) coal and natural gas power plants ? [CAFE] Standards ? Clean Water Section 404: Waters of the U.S. Rule (wetlands) ? TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) for Chesapeake Bay.
    “Key opportunities”: “Issue an executive order barring EPA from overruling federal/state regulatory/permit decisions unless in clear violation of established law.”
    Changing the way the EPA uses science: “Unless major reforms of the agency’s use of science and economics are achieved, EPA will be able to return to its bad old ways as soon as an establishment administration takes office.”

    1. Why would you leak something that makes the target look good?

      1. Trump is playing *huge*-dimensional chess!

    2. Environmental Protection Agency is set for an absolute hammering under Trump

      Libertarian erotica?

      1. Maybe SugarFree can write something to commemorate if they actually go through with it.

  6. All of these ‘senior aides’ are anonymous (for obvious reasons). Are they Trump appointees or Obama leftovers? See the State Department officials resigning in the lynx.

    1. I wonder about the “resigning” going on. Could be saving face. At this point it’s fairly obvious Trump and his various bureaucracies are at odds (except for anything to do with law enforcement I suppose)

  7. And a rather large number of Donald Trump’s senior aides have been telling reporters unflattering anecdotes about the boss.

    This I don’t buy. I worked for a major utility president and during that time wouldn’t have leaked something that stupid and trivial (the article I read about this was New York Magazine and used the word “whispers at least three times). Either he magazine is outright Dan Rathering or they are getting played.

  8. Don’t Look Now, But Your Government Is Leaking

    The government has to stop eating Chipolte.

  9. Plus, now leakers will be lauded as heroic.

    1. Something, something, Snowdens of yesteryear.

    2. I’m just wondering whether this counts as interference in the 2020 election?

  10. We need basic media literacy.

    And yet…

  11. The leaks have been a flood in Washington this week.

    Its been glorious. I can’t remember the last time DC provided this much entertainment. DC in a fear-induced frenzy is almost as much fun as DC as a nuclear wasteland. NEEDZ MOAR SUPERMUTANTS!

    As always, though, be extremely cautious with anonymous leaks. They have an agenda, and you don’t even know whose agenda it is. Never hurts to get some kind of collaboration.

  12. The leaks have been a flood in Washington this week. Vox has published the drafts of what appear to four pending White House executive orders

    So he’s clamping down on immigration from countries that don’t provide vetting data for their citizens and countries that are in the midst of terrorist insurrections, he’s “building a wall around the welfare state” and making one’s welfare dependence grounds denial of permanent residency and citizenship.

    What’s not to love?

    1. And what is in the “leaks” that comes as a surprise?

  13. Uh, are you sure he isn’t approving these “leaks” just to keep the media busy covering too many stories at once, occasionally letting BS slip by to the detriment of their credibility, and making him look good to his base?

  14. That image seems to be the US Navy flooding trainer.
    US Navy flooding trainer

  15. A flood of leaks is just as useless as no leaks at all — especially when several of the supposed “leaks” contradict each other.

  16. Under the previous administration of the Nobel-Peace-Prize-Winning Constitutional Scholar, leakers were prosecuted criminally under the Espionage Act. President Trump has not yet even suggested he would do this to leakers. Might this just possibly have something to do with the “flood” of leaks we are seeing, at least until Trump decides to follow his predecessor’s example?

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