Trump Escalates Anti-Leak Campaign

President Trump has made clear his anger about “leaks,” but he is far from alone among recent U.S. presidents waging war against whistleblowing, write Jesselyn Radack and Kathleen McClellan for ExposeFacts.

By Jesselyn Radack and Kathleen McClellan

The Trump administration has declared a war on media leaks and called for the U.S. federal workforce and contractors to receive “anti-leak” training. The centerpiece of Trump’s anti-leak campaign, aside from early morning tweet-storms railing against leakers and media, is the National Insider Threat Taskforce.

President Donald Trump. (Screen shot from Whitehouse.gov)

The Insider Threat Program is not a Trump-era creation. In then-secret testimony to Congress in 2012, Directorate of National Intelligence official Robert Litt touted the original Insider Threat Program as a highlight in administrative efforts to “sanction and deter” leaks. In the past, Insider Threat Program training has improperly included “WANTED”-style images of whistleblowers pictured alongside actual spies and mass murderers.

As recently as last month, the Department of Defense has developed training courses, toolkits, templates, posters, and videos, all aimed toward silencing and deterring anyone who would disclose to the press or the public information that the government wants kept secret for no legitimate reason and that the public has an interest in knowing. It is not only federal employees who receive these trainings, but tens of thousands of government contractors as well. Companies with any classified access are required to implement an “Insider Threat Program,” an insidious presumption that employees cannot be trusted.

Part of the “Unauthorized Disclosure” training includes watching a Fox News clip on the crackdown on leaks and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s statement announcing an increase in criminal leak investigations. A student guide from the Insider Threat Awareness training includes the McCarthyesque request that employees report on each other for “general suspicious behaviors,” including “Questionable national loyalty” such as “Displaying questionable loyalty to U.S. government or company” or “Making anti-U.S. comments.” Never mind that the only oath government employees take is to the U.S. Constitution, not to any government official or the U.S. government itself and certainly not to a private company.

Anti-Leak Posters

The many secrecy trainings come with promotional posters with unsophisticated rhyming slogans cringe-worthy to First Amendment advocates and marketing professionals alike, such as “There no delete when you tweet” or “Tweets sink fleets.” The poster with the slogan “Every Leak makes us weak” is accompanied by a melting American flag info-graphic. Then there’s the most anti-press poster, a mock newspaper website with the slogan “Think before you click,” complete with a red, Trumpian-style, all caps “IT’S A CRIME” at the bottom. The messaging is so heavy-handed it would be funny if the consequences weren’t the freedoms of speech and the press.

U.S. government poster that uses photos of whistleblowers interspersed with  murderers and spies.

Finally, there’s the laughably inaccurate and awkward slogan “Free speech doesn’t mean careless talk.” Actually, it does. Free speech does not mean screaming “FIRE” in a crowded theater, but there is no Supreme Court ruling holding that “careless speech” is somehow exempt from First Amendment protections, lest our President’s Twitter feed be censorable.

There is an “unauthorized disclosures” video training from September 2017 billed as “compliant with White House and Secretary of Defense Memoranda” that condemns leaks, points out punishment for leakers, and warns apocalyptically that when there are unauthorized leaks, “we all risk losing our way of life.”

Another informational video includes a fictionalized news story about Americans dying in a terrorist attack because of a release of classified information. Such a story has never appeared in the actual news media because it has never happened. In Chelsea Manning’s criminal case – worth mentioning since her leaks are consistently singled out in the videos – the government was unable to provide a finalized damage assessment, even though the leaks occurred years prior. (Curiously, Edward Snowden’s even more-well known leaks are not mentioned by name in the videos.)

The trainings include little or no mention of whistleblowing, except to say that leaking to the media is not whistleblowing, and the First Amendment offers no protection to whistleblowers. This is chilling, but not accurate. The Supreme Court has recognized that the media is a legitimate outlet for whistleblowers. And, information that has been classified to cover up government wrongdoing or prevent embarrassment is not properly classified. In fact, whistleblowers leaking to the media is a time-honored tradition dating back, at least, to Daniel Ellsberg’s leaking of the Pentagon Papers.

The Insider Threat Program trainings do not send a simple message against leaking properly classified information, such as nuclear launch codes or covert identities. Rather, the trainings send much more destructive messages against all leaks and speech the government does not like: do not criticize the government or you will be reported as an insider threat and keep all government secrets, even when the government breaks the law. These are messages contrary to a free and open democratic society, especially one where the First Amendment protects freedoms of speech, association, and the press.

The training videos go beyond simply urging employees to keep quiet. Employees are instructed not to access or share information already in the public sphere. Considering that every major newspaper includes almost daily leaks of classified information, such an instruction is impossible to comply with, and will almost certainly be used, as it has in the past, to retaliate against whistleblowers. After all, the biggest leaker of classified information is the U.S. government itself.

Jesselyn Radack was a whistleblower at the Department of Justice under the Bush administration and now heads the Whistleblower and Source Protection Program (WHISPeR) at ExposeFacts, where she has provided legal representation for clients including Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, and William Binney. Kathleen McClellan is the Deputy Director at WHISPeR. [This article originally ran at ExposeFacts at https://exposefacts.org/insider-threat-program-training-and-trumps-war-on-leaks-a-chilling-combination-for-whistleblowers/ ]

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16 comments for “Trump Escalates Anti-Leak Campaign

  1. Al Pinto
    October 18, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    Quote:

    “These are messages contrary to a free and open democratic society, especially one where the First Amendment protects freedoms of speech, association, and the press.”

    You seems to forget couple of things….

    One, yes, there’s freedom of speech in every country’s constitution, including in the US. On the other hand, none of the constitutions guarantee freedom after the speech, including in the US.

    Two, the US is not a democracy, it is a republic.

    Should the US government have training in place to prevent disclosing information, especially the ones that it does not want to be disclosed? In my view, we are way behind the point for asking this question and may even be behind the point of no return. Government by its nature is suppressive, be that communist or capitalist, the more secretive it gets the more suppressive it is.

  2. Abe
    October 18, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    Outsider Threat Awareness made America great
    https://whitehouse.org/2017/05/report-illegal-immigrants/

    Insider Threat Awareness is gonna be yuuuuge!

  3. October 18, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    Thanks for those Abe.

  4. David G
    October 18, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    That poster in the illustration is really deplorable.

    And those lame slogans are obviously these geniuses’ version of “Loose lips sink ships”. It’s depressing the extent to which the main, approved sense of national purpose in the U.S. is confined to wallowing in the rotting midden of World War II nostalgia.

  5. Mild-ly Facetious
    October 18, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    Trump is his own worst leaker –
    he is, in fact, the Leaker in Chief
    entangled within self-deception/
    Oedipus Complex or Socratic?

  6. Joe Tedesky
    October 18, 2017 at 4:44 pm

    It always amazes me to how our government needs to have a cover story for everything, and anything. Then the cover up becomes bigger than the hidden lie. Realizing that there are certain programs which need kept secret for real National Security protection, but while secrecy must always be observed, this same apparatus for hiding the truth from our enemies foreign and domestic also serves as a shield to protect many a politicians lies.

    Here are some quotes from a very famous propagandist….

    “Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.”

    Joseph Goebbels

    “There will come a day, when all the lies will collapse under their own weight, and truth will again triumph.”

    Joseph Goebbels

    “It is the absolute right of the State to supervise the formation of public opinion.”

    Joseph Goebbels

    Lastly, out of respect I must mention the name Seth Rich, and how disappointing it is that he died possibly trying to get the truth out to us citizens. I say, never forget young Seth, for he was a real American hero.

    • Larco Marco
      October 19, 2017 at 1:14 am

      Giving the DCPD jurisdiction for investigating Seth’s murder assures the perps that they will never be identified.

      • Joe Tedesky
        October 19, 2017 at 10:38 am

        Regretful indeed.

    • mike k
      October 19, 2017 at 10:55 am

      Seth Rich is the forgotten man now – flushed down the memory hole.

  7. mike k
    October 18, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    A government based on lies fears the truth.

  8. Deplorable
    October 18, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    “When Fascism comes to this country, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross” Sinclair Lewis, Literature Nobel Prize winner (1885-1951). “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” so said a philosopher.
    It appears inevitable, that the US will end up in an open dictatorial regime in a near future, with the populace amazed by the occurrence, in complete disbelief. Sad, but well deserved end to a failed experiment.

  9. Mild-ly Facetious
    October 18, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    From a conception of dreams as
    ‘an inspiration from the divine’,
    man had arrived at a scientific view
    that they were simply the result of

    ‘sensory excitation’/Oedipus Complex,
    the Distortion of Self – Absorption/from
    “Commander-in-Chief” to Oedipus Rex;
    self-destruction of a maladroit Resident.

    The United States’ 45th President
    Is a miserable joke-of-a-Pretender,
    Dream Awakener 4 separatists/bigots
    whose past is present under Mr.Trump.

    Whose “Make America Great Again”
    is the Rebel America dog whistle for
    Palin’s, “Let’s Take Our Country Back”
    shoutout to Nationalist Militant Bigots.

    Las Vagas was A Display of their
    Over-Abundant Firepower where
    “It is the Absolute Right of the State to
    Supervise the Formation of Public Opinion.”

    (…are you paying attention?)

    • Mild-ly Facetious
      October 18, 2017 at 11:54 pm

      or, in different words – Oh Say!

      Can you, See… ?

      • mike k
        October 19, 2017 at 10:59 am

        …..any bed bugs on me
        if you do – take a few
        ’cause I got them
        from YOU!

  10. Liam
    October 19, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    #MeToo – A Course In Deductive Reasoning: Separating Fact From Fiction Through The Child Exploitation Of 8 Year Old Bana Alabed

    https://clarityofsignal.com/2017/10/19/metoo-a-course-in-deductive-reasoning-separating-fact-from-fiction-through-the-child-exploitation-of-8-year-old-bana-alabed/

Comments are closed.