US vows crack­down on ‘stag­ger­ing’ num­ber of leaks

The num­ber of crim­i­nal leak probes has tripled

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions pledged on Fri­day to rein in gov­ern­ment leaks that he said un­der­mine Amer­i­can se­cu­rity, tak­ing an ag­gres­sive pub­lic stand af­ter be­ing called weak on the mat­ter by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. The na­tion’s top law en­force­ment of­fi­cial cited no cur­rent in­ves­ti­ga­tions in which dis­clo­sures of in­for­ma­tion had jeop­ar­dized the coun­try, but said the num­ber of crim­i­nal leak probes had more than tripled in the early months of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials also said they were re­view­ing guide­lines put in place to make it dif­fi­cult for the gov­ern­ment to sub­poena jour­nal­ists about their sources, and would not rule out the pos­si­bil­ity that a re­porter could be pros­e­cuted.

“No one is en­ti­tled to sur­rep­ti­tiously fight to ad­vance their bat­tles in the me­dia by re­veal­ing sen­si­tive gov­ern­ment in­for­ma­tion,” Ses­sions said in an an­nounce­ment that fol­lowed a se­ries of news re­ports this year on the Trump cam­paign and White House that have re­lied on clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion. “No gov­ern­ment can be ef­fec­tive when its lead­ers can­not dis­cuss sen­si­tive mat­ters in con­fi­dence or talk freely in con­fi­dence with for­eign lead­ers.” Me­dia ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tions con­demned the an­nounce­ment, with Bruce Brown, the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Re­porters Com­mit­tee for Free­dom of the Press, say­ing the de­ci­sion to re­view ex­ist­ing guide­lines was “deeply trou­bling.”

Lie de­tec­tor tests

Mean­while, a White House ad­viser raised the pos­si­bil­ity of lie de­tec­tor tests for the small num­ber of peo­ple in the West Wing and else­where with ac­cess to tran­scripts of Trump’s phone calls. The Wash­ing­ton Post on Thurs­day pub­lished tran­scripts of his con­ver­sa­tions with the lead­ers of Mex­ico and Aus­tralia. Trump coun­selor Kellyanne Con­way told “Fox & Friends” that “it’s eas­ier to fig­ure out who’s leak­ing than the leak­ers may re­al­ize.” And might lie de­tec­tors be used? She said: “Well, they may, they may not.”

Trump’s out­bursts against me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions he de­rides as “fake news” have led to pre­dic­tions that his ad­min­is­tra­tion will more ag­gres­sively try to root out leak­ers, and the tim­ing of the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s an­nounce­ment - one week af­ter the pres­i­dent com­plained on Twit­ter that Ses­sions had been weak on “in­tel leak­ers” - raised ques­tions about whether the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s ac­tion was aimed at quelling the anger of the man who ap­pointed him. Ses­sions said in his re­marks that his depart­ment has more than tripled the num­ber of ac­tive leaks in­ves­ti­ga­tions com­pared with the num­ber pend­ing when Pres­i­dent Barack Obama left of­fice, and the num­ber of re­fer­rals to the Jus­tice Depart­ment for po­ten­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion of unau­tho­rized dis­clo­sures had “ex­ploded.” The Jus­tice Depart­ment un­der Ses­sions is pros­e­cut­ing a con­trac­tor in Ge­or­gia ac­cused of leak­ing a clas­si­fied gov­ern­ment re­port to a me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tion.

‘Cul­ture of leaks’

“This na­tion must end this cul­ture of leaks. We will in­ves­ti­gate and seek to bring crim­i­nals to jus­tice. We will not al­low rogue anony­mous sources with se­cu­rity clear­ances to sell out our coun­try,” Ses­sions said in his re­marks. Me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions also had an of­ten-tense re­la­tion­ship with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, whose Jus­tice Depart­ment brought more leaks cases than dur­ing all pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions com­bined and was crit­i­cized for ma­neu­vers seen as need­lessly ag­gres­sive and in­tru­sive.

That in­cluded a se­cret sub­poena of phone records of As­so­ci­ated Press re­porters and edi­tors fol­low­ing a 2012 story about a foiled bomb plot, and the la­bel­ing of a Fox News jour­nal­ist as a “co­con­spir­a­tor” af­ter a re­port on North Korea. The Jus­tice Depart­ment also aban­doned a years­long ef­fort to force a New York Times jour­nal­ist to re­veal his source in the trial of a for­mer CIA of­fi­cer who was later found guilty of dis­clos­ing clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion.

Fol­low­ing con­sul­ta­tion with me­dia lawyers, the Jus­tice Depart­ment in 2015 re­vised its guide­lines for leak in­ves­ti­ga­tions to re­quire ad­di­tional lev­els of ap­proval be­fore a re­porter could be sub­poe­naed, in­clud­ing from the at­tor­ney gen­eral. But Ses­sions and Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein said Fri­day that they were re­view­ing how the depart­ment con­ducts leak in­ves­ti­ga­tions and whether cur­rent reg­u­la­tions im­pose too many hur­dles on their work. Rosen­stein de­clined to com­ment when asked whether the depart­ment would rule out pros­e­cut­ing jour­nal­ists.

Rosen­stein said the depart­ment ex­pected to con­sult with me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives about pos­si­ble changes to the reg­u­la­tions, though any ef­forts to undo pro­tec­tions for jour­nal­ists or to make it eas­ier to tar­get sources will en­counter deep op­po­si­tion from news or­ga­ni­za­tions. “The cur­rent guide­lines re­flect a great deal of good-faith dis­cus­sion be­tween the news me­dia and a wide range of in­ter­ests from within the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, in­clud­ing ca­reer pros­e­cu­tors and key non­po­lit­i­cal per­son­nel,” said Brown, of the press free­dom group.

SAN SAL­VADOR: In this July 28, 2017 file photo, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions speaks. —AP

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