National security officials across the government are becoming increasingly paranoid about a crackdown on leaking, according to a report by Politico.
The anonymous officials said they are seeing “new restrictions” on their access to sensitive information, “fueling fears in the intelligence and security community that the Trump administration has stepped up a stealthy operation to smoke out leakers.”
A “half dozen officials across the national security community” told Politico they are concerned that the administration is:
— “carefully tracking what they’re doing and who they’re talking to — then plotting to use them as a scapegoat or accuse them of leaks”;
— “tracking what they printed, to keep tabs on what information they were accessing” (National Security Agency contractor Reality Winner was caught printing out a classified report and sending it to The Intercept);
— “limiting the number of people involved in certain sensitive matters, so that if something leaks, the suspects are obvious”;
— keeping information “so ‘choked down’ that if something comes out in the press, ‘it’s either a bogus leak’ or… the relevant agency will know exactly where it came from”;
— sending a “‘crimes report’ to the National Security Division at the Justice Department, which will review the incident. If the incident is determined to be serious enough, the Justice Department will send it to the FBI to formally investigate.”
The report notes there are rumors of private eyes being hired to run “rogue operations” to catch leakers, even enlisting “amenable employees”:
Rumors have ricocheted among national security officials and journalists in recent weeks that Trump- or GOP-related operatives have hired private eyes to try and intimidate reporters, or run rogue operations to find their sources. Some U.S. officials voiced concern to POLITICO that the White House could be seeking out amenable employees in different agencies to do its bidding, effectively sanctioning its own, parallel — and informal — intimidation measures.
The report said these feared restrictions have had a chilling effect on officials.
“I’m just trying to keep my head down,” a U.S. intelligence official told Politico.
The report noted several times the White House’s “obsession” with leaks. However, a new study by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released Thursday showed that Trump has faced seven times as many leaks as his two predecessors.
The study showed that the Trump administration faced 125 separate leaks potentially damaging to national security in 126 days — a “conservative estimate,” it noted.
When the leaks were narrowed down to five outlets, the report showed the Trump White House faced 62 leaks, compared to eight under the Obama administration and nine under the George W. Bush administration.
— Adam Kredo (@Kredo0) July 6, 2017
The Senate study noted that arguments often used to justify leaks — that they are intended to bring light to potential illegality, unwise policies, or concerns about the president’s temperament — have no legal basis.
No accused leaker has ever been acquitted based on an argument that the public interest was so great that it justified a leak, the report said.
The report said a review of the sources cited in news reports containing those leaks indicates they are “coming from across the government” — with some “clearly from within the intelligence community.”
One official complained about the “feeling of fundamental unfairness” that the Trump administration can leak, but they can’t.
“They don’t mind the leaking as long as they control it,” the official said.