New policy: Spies can’t cite leaked material

Government intelligence workers are prohibited from referencing articles based on operational leaks in their books, blogs, speeches or other writings, under a new Obama administration policy.

The strategy would limit a technique often used by government officials to talk about classified operations that have already become public.

Under a new instruction, employees at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) “must not use sourcing that comes from known leaks, or unauthorized disclosures of sensitive information.”

“The use of such information in a publication can confirm the validity of an unauthorized disclosure and cause further harm to national security,” it added. “ODNI personnel are not authorized to use anonymous sourcing.”

Like a previous directive preventing intelligence workers from talking to the press without permission, the document does not distinguish between referencing leaks about classified or unclassified programs. 

Spy agency workers have long had to submit their writings for review in order to make sure that they do not reveal secret operations, but the new policy seems to impose more dramatic limits on their work.

Officials will also need prior approval before taking part in a forum, panel or roundtable discussion, and need to prepare an outline before having "unstructured or free-form discussions." 

Violating the policy could lead to “civil and administrative penalties” as well as the loss of access or security clearances.

The instruction was signed by ODNI Chief Management Officer Mark Ewing on April 8, but it was first reported on Thursday by the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy

“The newly updated Instruction will no doubt inhibit informal contacts between ODNI employees and members of the general public, as it is intended to do,” Steven Aftergood, director of the secrecy project, wrote in a blog post.

“Whether that is a wise policy, and whether such indiscriminate barriers to the public serve the real interests of ODNI and the U.S. intelligence community, are separate questions.”