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In Obama's War on Leaks, Reporters Fight Back

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Politics and Democracy page.

In the Watergate era, the Nixon administration's telephone wiretaps were the biggest concern for journalists and sources worried about government surveillance. That was one of the reasons why Bob Woodward met with FBI official Mark Felt (a.k.a. "Deep Throat") in an underground parking garage in Arlington, and why he and Carl Bernstein did much of their reporting by knocking on the front doors of their sources' homes. Except for the aborted prosecution of Daniel Ellsberg for the leak of the Pentagon Papers, criminal culpability or pervasive surveillance were not major concerns, especially after Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974.

Not so now. With the passage of the Patriot Act after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a vast expansion of intelligence agencies and their powers, the aggressive exploitation of intrusive digital surveillance capabilities, the excessive classification of public documents and officials' sophisticated control of the news media's access to the workings of government, journalists who cover national security are facing vast and unprecedented challenges in their efforts to hold the government accountable to its citizens. They find that government officials are increasingly fearful of talking to them, and they worry that their communications with sources can be monitored at any time.

So what are they doing? Many reporters covering national security and government policy in Washington these days are taking precautions to keep their sources from becoming casualties in the Obama administration's war on leaks. They and their remaining government sources often avoid telephone conversations and e-mail exchanges, arranging furtive one-on-one meetings instead. A few news organizations have even set up separate computer networks and safe rooms for journalists trained in encryption and other ways to thwart surveillance.   


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