Largely unnoticed until yesterday, the CIA is pushing Congress to pass a bill that will vastly expand secrecy laws, threaten press freedom, and prevent accountability for intelligence officials who violate the law.
This year’s Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) contains a provision that would radically expand the definition of employees in the CIA and other intelligence agencies that can be considered “covert.” Right now, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) only applies to covert officers who are stationed overseas within the last five years. As Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press explained, “if the changes advocated by the CIA are adopted, the law would indefinitely criminalize the disclosure of the identity of anyone with a classified relationship to an intelligence agency regardless of whether they have ever served abroad.”
This provision was inserted into the intelligence bill by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who is chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and someone who claims to be a strong supporter of press freedom.
Critically, the bill would allow the Trump administration—and all future administrations—the ability to prosecute reporters who reveal these officers’ names, even if those officers have tortured innocent people in clear violation of the law. In fact, the CIA literally cites media revelations about the CIA’s torture program in its justification to Congress to pass the bill. That type of important reporting could be subject to prosecution if the IAA provision is allowed to move forward.
Dozens of press freedom and open government groups have sent a letter to Congress protesting the bill.
Freedom of the Press Foundation’s executive director Trevor Timm released the following statement about the controversial provision.
The press is critical in holding intelligence agencies like the CIA accountable for breaking the law, and this bill is a clear attempt to stifle press freedom. It’s an open invitation to the Trump administration to hide government criminality behind official secrecy and potentially prosecute reporters for revealing it. Anyone in Congress who cares about press freedom should vigorously oppose this dangerous bill. We urge Rep. Adam Schiff to do everything in his power to withdraw this misguided provision.
Please contact Rep. Schiff's office and tell him to remove the dangerous provision and stand up for press freedom ahead of next week’s vote. The contact information for Rep. Schiff and his office are below. The House may vote on the IAA as soon as early next week.
Phone: (202) 225-4176
Twitter: @RepAdamSchiff or @AdamSchiff