The Obama Justice Department has announced that it will not assert spy charges against reporters during leak investigations except in special circumstances.
The statement by Attorney Gen. Eric Holder, right, on July 12 reduces the tension between prosecutors and the mainstream media after revelations this spring that the DOJ had claimed in court papers that Fox News reporter James Rosen was suspected of espionage for seeking confidential information in 2009 regarding North Korea from a State Department contractor. Separately, the DOJ secretly tapped 20 lines of the Associated Press used by more than 100 reporters to learn the source of a leak about Yemen. The DOJ actions have prompted a nationwide protest by press freedom advocates.
Meanwhile, a smear campaign against freelance investigative reporter Wayne Madsen raises new questions about the longstanding practice of intelligence agencies in the United States and United Kingdom, as elsewhere, of trying to shape public opinion via news organizations, quasi-academic non-profits, and other outlets that influence civic perceptions. (See background in Part II of this series.))
Glenn Greenwald, who broke surveillance revelations of former NSA analyst Eric Snowden in the Guardian, is one of several journalists and leakers who have complained about unfair coverage that focuses unduly on the personal attributes of reporters and leakers. David Sirota is another blogger who has alleged a pattern of unfairness, in Meet the “Journalists Against Journalism” club!
Madsen's experiences raise the possibility that criticism may be contrived by government working with assets in the private sector. Madsen wrote in the July 15 Wayne Madsen Report (WMR):
British intelligence sources have informed WMR that a British Defense Ministry “D-Notice” issued on June 7 to British media organizations, including the Guardian and the Observer, both owned by the same company, served as a pretext to conduct the smear attack on WMR's editor on both sides of the Atlantic. A Confidential D-Notice was issued to the media organizations as a “DA-Notice 03,” which was issued pursuant to media reports on “ciphers and secure communications” operations of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain's National Security Agency partner. The DA-3 Notice was authorized by Foreign Secretary William Hague, who has responsibility for GCHQ and Britain's MI-6 foreign intelligence service. D-Notices are merely advisory in nature but most media operations that receive them understand that they could be charged with violating the Official Secrets Act if choose to totally ignore such advisories.
Madsen, below left, is a freelance investigative reporter, and author who previously worked as a Navy intelligence officer, including an assignment to work at the NSA as a computer expert. Also, he has been a vice president at a large defense contractor, and a researcher/pundit at a Washington think tank. A prolific writer on both mainstream and highly controversial topics, Madsen is the author of six books. Among other things, he has written op-eds that have appeared in more than 40 mainstream United States newspapers this year.
This month, several reporters at mainstream publications and politically active military and think tank personnel subjected Madsen tgo a vicious and deceptive social media attack after the Observer in London quoted him in a front-page story. The story, headlined Revealed: secret European deals to hand over private data to America, appeared late June 29 online just before print publication the next day.
Complaints about Madsen apparently persuaded the Observer to drop its front-page story for unexplained reasons.
This episode has enough U.S.-based ties to deserve consideration as a part of the overall relationship between the Obama administration and the media regarding leaks — especially since the vast bulk of the news coverage it has received has been wrong on major facts.
I have more interest than most in examining why Madsen's cooperation with the Observer's request for documents created such a storm of controversy. Madsen, whom I met at the National Press Club in Washington eight years ago, has shared several declassified documents that assisted me in research for my book announced last week, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters. The book surveys more than a century of U.S. and U.K. history through June of this year to portray important developments unreported or under-covered by the media, often for national security reasons.
My findings show extensive NSA and CIA's secret involvement in domestic surveillance and domestic politics. Both agencies were forbidden for many years from those activities. Each minimizes in a deceptive manner the actual scope of their spying on domestic populations. My book cites among its 1,100 endnotes several of Madsen's books on relevant topics. One is The Manufacturing a President, published last year. It revealed more of President Obama's family background and early career than known previously, based in part on his travels to Indonesia to research under difficult conditions suppressed records of the future president's early years.