Posts Tagged ‘whistle-blower’


Science Writers Survey Looks At Reporter-PIO Dealings

Science writers have a hard time getting candid information from government scientists. While the public information office sometimes helps connect the two, the PIO also can interfere with the reporting process to the point of keeping the public from getting all the information it needs. These are some of the findings of the SPJ Freedom of Information Committee’s latest survey of reporters about their relationship with government public information offices. The survey of science writers was released April 9 at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The survey was cosponsored by the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

 
Among other things, the science writers survey found that:
• Almost three quarters (74.2%) of respondents said that PIOs require reporters to get their approval before interviewing employees at least some of the time.
• More than half (52.2%) said that when they ask to interview a specific subject matter expert, their request for an interview is routed to a different agency employee by the PIO at least some of the time.
• 67.5% said they have to make multiple requests for information and interviews when they go through the public information office to get access to a subject matter expert at least some of the time.
• Reporters who got an interview often found the PIO sitting in on the interview either on the telephone or in person (31.8% some of the time, 19.5% most of the time, 6.5% all of the time).
• However, many science writers have figured out ways to interview subject matter experts without involving the public information office (34.2% some of the time, 21.9% most of the time, 10.3% all of the time). Often, these are people they cornered at a conference or meeting, or had a long-term relationship with.

 

Kathryn Foxhall, an SPJ FOI Committee member who has made a study of the PIO issue, said at Thursday’s conference that the problem of reporters being required to go through the PIO to talk to government employees is becoming widespread in recent years.
“Most basically, when reporters are required to go through PIOs to talk to anyone, the source people know they are under surveillance by the official structure and that changes everything. Likely enough, there is someone in the agency who could blow the whole story out of the water if the PIOs weren’t tracking who is talking to which reporter,” she said.
“Maybe the most frequent problem is not about hiding malfeasance. It may be the constant blockage of pieces of our education, so the whole understanding is weak,” she said. “However, often enough there is also just stone-cold manipulation of the message according to insiders’ ideas and desires, including political purposes.”

The report released April 9, which included survey results from science writers, was the fourth in a series of reports from the FOI committee since 2012. The first surveyed Washington¬‐area reporters who covered federal agencies. The second surveyed members of the Education Writers Association and the third was a national survey of state and local political reporters. FOI Committee member Carolyn Carlson led the research for these surveys.

FOI Update: China praises ‘handsome’ hero, condemns U.S. ‘double-standard’

Whistle-blower Edward Snowden might be getting flack from Washington about his NSA surveillance exposure, but in China he’s a “handsome” hero, ABC News reports.

Many Chinese have taken to China’s version of Twitter, called Weibo, posting the leaker’s old modeling photos (turns out Snowden had a brief modeling stint). On a Weibo survey, 78 percent of respondents see Snowden as “freedom fighter who is protecting civil liberties,” ABC reports.

Snowden first told the Guardian he chose Hong Kong for his hideout because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.”

And the results of the Weibo survey make it look like he’s safe, considering only three percent of respondents support turning him over to the U.S. government, ABC News said.

But even though it looks like China has taken a liking to Snowden, the nation has little patience with the U.S. as a whole since U.S. efforts to hack Chinese correspondence creates a “double standard” after the U.S. complained about Chinese hacking in May.

According to the Guardian, China said U.S. surveillance is testing Sino-U.S. ties and straining an already “soured relationship” on cybersecurity.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

FOI Daily Dose: Fox News reporter uses NY shield law to fend off subpoena; Dems and GOP criticize Snowden, NSA director speaks about leaks

New York shield law may fend off subpoena

A Fox News reporter is seeking protection from being forced to reveal her sources in Colorado court under New York’s shield law, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Fox News reporter Jana Winter was subpoenaed in January for a July 25 story she wrote about the Colorado movie theater massacre last summer involving two anonymous law enforcement sources.

A five-judge panel heard the case on June 12 when Winter’s attorney argued that she should not be forced to reveal her sources because even though she was reporting in Colorado, she lives and works in New York, and is therefore protected under New York’s shield law, which provides “absolute privilege for journalists’ confidential sources and reporting materials,” RCFP said.

The attorneys for the accused shooter James Holmes subpoenaed Winter, saying the law enforcement sources violated Holmes’ right to a fair trial by telling Winter about his notebook allegedly filled with drawings of the planned shooting.

With the help of a Colorado judge in January, the attorneys got Justice Larry Stephan of Manhattan to sign-off on a subpoena, and Winter’s attorney, Dori-Ann Hanswirth, filed papers to appeal Stephan’s decision to sign, according to Fox News.

Since Stephan signed, Winter had to attend a Colorado hearing in April to determine whether Holmes’s notebook qualifies as evidence in the case. Winter is scheduled to reappear before the court in August, and if the notebook is ruled a “substantial issue,” she will be ordered to reveal her sources lest she face time in jail for contempt of court, according to RCFP.

But the New York court’s decision from Wednesday’s hearing may save her if they rule that Stephan should not have signed-off on the subpoena in the first place. Hanswirth told RCFP she is hopeful the New York court will decide before August.

Snowden under fire from both sides of party lines, NSA director speaks out

National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden received criticism from Republicans and Democrats on June 13 after closed briefings with top administration officials, according to Yahoo News.

Two senior Republican lawmakers raised vague, yet alarming concerns that terrorists are already changing their tactics now that the NSA surveillance programs are unveiled.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich) said there are “changes we can already see being made by the folks who wish to do us harm, and our allies harm,” and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) of the Senate Intelligence Committee said those “changes” might even cost American lives, according to Yahoo.

“His disclosures are ultimately going to lead to us being less safe in America because bad guys will be able to figure out a way around some of the methods we use, and it’s likely to cost lives down the road,” Chambliss said.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Maryland), the committee’s ranking Democrat, expressed concerns and questions about Snowden’s choice of a Hong Kong hideout since it’s part of China, “a country that’s cyberattacking us every single day.”
NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander also spoke out for the first time, sharing concerns about terrorists changing their plans in response to the leaks and saying he hopes to bolster support for the programs by declassifying “dozens of attacks” they have helped disrupt, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Alexander defended NSA’s intelligence programs as legal and necessary. But he did admit concern that junior employees like Snowden can access so many national security secrets and said that issue needs to be addressed.

“This individual was a system administrator with access to key parts of the network,” he said. “This is something we have to fix.”

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

FOI Daily Dose: FOIA affects immigration debate

Immigration isn’t just a talking point for President Obama, who praised the Senate’s progress on the comprehensive reform legislation at a June 12 Democratic National Committee fundraiser. It’s a hot topic for Freedom of Information Act  junkies this week, too.

The Judicial Watch, a public-interest watchdog group, reported June 12 that it recently acquired documents through a FOIA request that revealed the federal government isn’t complying with current immigration enforcement laws and regulations.

An anonymous whistle-blower within a federal law enforcement agency alerted Judicial Watch that the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services has been undermining America’s national security by replacing required background checks on undocumented immigrants with costly “lean and lite” procedures since late 2012. The USCIS allegedly adopted these “haphazard” procedures to keep up with the influx of amnesty applications under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that gives undocumented immigrants a two-year deferment from deportation. The Watch said their FOIA documents prove that background checks on immigrants seeking “deferred status” do not measure up to Immigration and National Security Act (INA) standards.

The Watch filed a FOIA request with the Homeland Security Department on Oct. 26, asking for “all communications, memoranda, emails, policy guidance, directives, initiatives and other correspondence respecting the scope and extent of background checks to be performed (or not) on aliens applying to the Obama administration’s DACA program.”

And the Watch isn’t the only group seeking more information related to  immigration. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a team of San Diego news organizations asked a federal judge on June 12 to break the seal on information about an undocumented immigrant who died after he was beaten and Tasered by Border Patrol agents, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

In May, the agent’s attorneys asked the judge to seal the filings, and the government supported the request to prevent exposing the policies and procedures of Customs and Border Protection. But the ACLU said the cost of civil liberties in this case is too high, so they’re protesting the seal to “protect the public’s interest in open and transparent proceedings in cases involving serious questions of official misconduct,” the Union-Tribune said.

“The defendants’ extraordinary request to allow this case to proceed under full seal due to unspecified and unproven ‘security concerns’ violates both the First Amendment and the common law right of access to judicial records,” David Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, told the Union-Tribune. “Openness in judicial proceedings is essential to creating public trust in the legitimacy of the proceedings. In this case, defendants have not met the strict standard for cutting public access to the court record.”

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett. – See more at blogs.spjnetwork.org/foi

FOI FYI: Is NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden a hero or villain?

While U.S. officials hunted for who leaked about the National Security Agency’s sweeping domestic surveillance late last week, the whistle-blower outed himself.

Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former CIA technical assistant and a current employee for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, requestedthe Guardian reveal his identity in an article and video interview published June 8.

“I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” Snowden told the Guardian.

After working at the National Security Agency for the last four years, Snowden said he decided to leak top secret information about the government’s surveillance because his conscience got the best of him. He didn’t feel right about racking up a big pay check in his Hawaii office all the while fighting off his gut feeling that NSA workers like him could easily grant themselves the right to snoop on average Americans without “public oversight.”

“The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to,” Snowden told the Guardian.

In the interview he also said the NSA “routinely lies in response to congressional inquiries about the scope of surveillance in America,” and he hopes that his outing will not detract attention from the top secret documents and information he publicized.

“I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in,” he told the Guardian. “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”

Snowden made the decision to out the NSA in what the Guardian is calling the “biggest intelligence leak” in the organization’s history about three weeks ago when he copied top secret documents in his office and boarded a plane to Hong Kong on May 20. He has been hiding out and conducting secret interviews with the press ever since. He told his supervisors he needed to leave work for “a couple of weeks” for epilepsy treatments (a condition he actually has), the Guardian said.

Snowden told the Guardian that he chose Hong Kong because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent,” and he thinks it’s one place he can hide from the repercussions of blowing the whistle on ultra-powerful American intelligence agencies.

Before Snowden revealed himself, the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald who has been breaking information about the NSA’s surveillance since June 5 (see our previous blog post) appeared on ABC News “This Week” Sunday to warn Americans there might be more than one NSA whistle-bower and to commend whistle-blowers everywhere for not allowing government prosecution to dissuade them from speaking out.

“(S)ince the government hides virtually everything that they do at the threat of criminal prosecution, the only way for us to learn about them is through these courageous whistle-blowers – who deserve our praise and gratitude, and not imprisonment and prosecution,” Greenwald told ABC News.

But also on “This Week” Sunday Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)  and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) told ABC News that the NSA’s massive surveillance program is not only “within the law,”  but also it has already helped thwart terror plots, including Colorado resident Najibullah Zazi’s 2009 plan to bomb New York City’s subways.

“I can tell you, in the Zazi case in New York, it’s exactly the program that was used,” Rogers told ABC News.

On June 7, President Obama addressed the press at an appearance in California primarily about health care. He explained that although he welcomes debate about citizen’s privacy concerns, he does not welcome the leak to the press because he said the NSA’s top secret programs are secret for a reason. They help the government identify and stop potential terrorists without alerting terrorists about how the system works.

“Our goal is to stop folks from doing us harm, and if every step that we’re taking to try to prevent a terrorist act is on the front page of the newspapers or on television, then presumably the people who are trying to do us harm are going to be able to get around our preventive measures. That’s why these things are classified,” Obama said on June 7.

He noted that NSA employees can be trusted to “operate like professionals” and their surveillance methods are “very narrowly circumscribed.”

One senior law enforcement source told ABC News last week that the leaker’s decision to spill top secret information about the NSA was “completely reckless and illegal.”

“It’s more than just unauthorized. He’s no hero,” the source told ABC News.

FOI Daily Dose: Whistle-blowers wanted to call out curious NSA programs, Patriot Act under fire

As reporters continue to pull back the curtain on sweeping government surveillance, whistle-blowers are gaining wind as a vital and ever-threatened cog in the American democracy machine.

The Atlantic Monthly published an article June 6 calling all citizens to arms to help hold the government accountable  especially those working on the inside of National Security Agency (NSA) programs recently exposed for monitoring and mining information about the American public.

Since the revelation that the government has the ability to track every citizen like a potential terrorist (collecting personal phone records and using programs like PRISM to tap into information from U.S. Internet giants), The Atlantic is encouraging insiders to report these programs’ activities to the press so the public can learn more.

Now that we know phone lines and computers are being watched (and that’s only scratching the surface, The Atlantic says), we need whistle-blowers more than ever to expose secrets about other ways Feds are collecting information and how they’re using the information they have.

The Atlantic said these top secret NSA programs are “probably illegal,” so blowing the whistle on them is essentially “the moral response to immoral activity by those in power.”

On June 7, MSNBC published an article saying the author of the Patriot Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), denounced the government’s overbroad interpretation of it as “un-American” and potentially un-Constitutional. But despite his apparent dismay, The Atlantic notes that Sensenbrenner has “a curious history of insisting that it is good law” since he first introduced it in 2001.

In their editorial board on June 6, The New York Times called for the infamous act to be either sharply curtailed or repealed to prevent overbroad interpretations in the future.

But intrusive government surveillance isn’t a problem unique to Patriots. The Human Rights Watch tracked the issue on Twitter, showing that appalling abuses of federal power are stirring up controversy everywhere from the European Union, to India, to Singapore, to Jordan and Azerbaijan — just to name a few.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

Whistle-blower Watch: DOJ ‘very likely’ to seek source of NSA leak in Verizon case

Federal whistle-blowers, beware. Attorney General Eric Holder is “very likely” to seek out the source who squeaked to the Guardian about the National Security Agency’s top secret phone record raid, according to an NBC correspondent who interviewed Attorney General Eric Holder about the Associated Press and Fox News subpoenas after the news broke.

The Guardian published a court order for the NSA to obtain Verizon customers’ phone records as well as a provocative article calling out the Obama administration’s “extreme interpretation of the law to engage in excessive domestic surveillance” on the evening of June 5. (See our previous post on the topic.)

But before the Guardian posted the order or the article, it said it approached the National Security Agency, the White House and the Justice Department, all of which declined to comment or raise specific security concerns as to why the information should not be made public.

Even so, NBC News Justice correspondent Pete Williams, who appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” June 6 with Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, confirmed that the Justice Department will investigate who blew the whistle.

“I was told last night: definitely there will be a leak investigation,” Williams said.

But on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” later that morning, Williams backed away from such certainty, telling host Chuck Todd: “It seems highly likely this will trigger a leak investigation.”

The Huffington Post said a senior administration official told them Thursday morning that it’s too early to suggest an investigation will “definitely” take place.

Stay tuned for updates.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

FOI Daily Dose: Soldiers blow the whistle on Army’s ‘money pit’ intelligence network

One week ago Democratic U.S. senators from Virginia Mark Warner and  Tim Kaine introduced a bill to expand protections for military whistle-blowers and sexual assault victims. Yesterday, a Politico article gave legislators another reason to consider the bill: to protect junior-level soldiers who want to blow the whistle on costly and inefficient battle technologies.

Three soldiers told Politico the Army’s multi-million dollar battlefield intelligence network (DCGS-A) is “a huge, bloated, excessively expensive money pit” too complicated and unreliable to use on the ground level. But the whistle-blowers felt compelled to conceal their identities because top Army commanders praise the system as a high-tech breakthrough that satisfies the long-term need for inter-operable intelligence sharing.

Politico notes that soldiers complaining about the intelligence network have used it routinely in Afghanistan and say it doesn’t work well for their “here and now” needs — especially in remote locations where bandwidth is scarce.

Former-Marine-turned-congressman Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., says it’s yet another example of how Army bureaucracy is out of touch with realities on the ground in Afghanistan, and he’s blowing the whistle on commanders for choosing an intelligence system that won’t be fully operational for several years over a system that meets soldiers’ needs. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Hunter plans to propose an amendment during the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act debate that could cut some of the intelligence network’s funding.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

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