Obama’s War on Leaks Found to be the “Most Aggressive since Nixon”

Monday, October 14, 2013
(AP Photos)

Not since the Nixon White House has an administration been so determined to plug leaks and go after individuals for exposing government secrets like that of Barack Obama.


The current commander-in-chief has conducted a veritable “war on leaks” targeting reporters and government officials, all in an effort to control the flow of information out of Washington, according to a new report produced by the Committee to Protect Journalists.


“The war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration,” Leonard Downie, the author of the study and a former Washington Post executive editor who worked during the Watergate era, said in the report.


Downie said Obama inherited a culture of secrecy from the George W. Bush administration. But rather than change it, Obama became “more aggressive” by increasing the use of the 1917 Espionage Act to pursue those accused of leaking classified information.


Under Obama, the Espionage Act has been used to go after six government employees and two contractors accused of revealing secrets to the press, including Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden.


In all previous administrations, there had been just three such prosecutions.


David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times and one of 30 journalists interviewed by Downie, said in the report: “This is the most closed, control-freak administration I’ve ever covered.”


The report also mentions how the Obama administration accused a Fox News reporter of “being an ‘aider, abettor and/or conspirator’ of an indicted leak defendant, exposing him to possible prosecution for doing his job as a journalist.”


Another example cited by Downie involved the U.S. Department of Justice secretly subpoenaing and seizing all records for 20 Associated Press telephone lines and switchboards for two months last year. The probe was conducted after the AP investigated the Central Intelligence Agency’s covert operation in Yemen. Although that story had been the focus of the government’s surveillance, it accessed “thousands upon thousands” of calls by more than 100 AP journalists, according to the report.


A key finding of the report is that the Obama administration’s aggressive tactics to stop leaks is having a chilling effect on journalists’ potential sources and, thus, their ability to do their jobs, ultimately undermining government accountability.


“The idea that people are shutting up and not leaking to reporters is belied by the facts,” Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, said in the report.


A number of journalists quoted in the report strongly disagree. “Most people are deterred by those leaks prosecutions,” said New York Times national security reporter Scott Shane. “They're scared to death. There's a grey zone between classified and unclassified information and most sources were in that grey zone.”


“If we consider aggressive press coverage of government activities [as] being at the core of American democracy, this tips the balance heavily in favor of the government,” he added.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Obama's Efforts to Control Leaks 'Most Aggressive since Nixon', Report Finds (by Karen McVeigh, The Guardian)

The Obama Administration and the Press: Leak Investigations and Surveillance in Post-9/11 America (by Leonard Downie Jr., Committee to Protect Journalists)

Obama Files More Anti-Leaker Cases in 2 Years than all Presidents in Last 40 Years (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)           

Ex-CIA Officer Arrested in Continuing Obama Attack on Alleged Leakers (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)       


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