1/A thread on the self-defeating practice of perpetual leak investigations
2/A couple years ago, I did some stories about secret surveillance techniques and ops you can find here (paywall): https://www.wsj.com/articles/americans-cellphones-targeted-in-secret-u-s-spy-program-1415917533 …
and here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-marshals-service-personnel-dressed-as-mexican-marines-pursue-drug-cartel-bosses-1416595305 …
3/The stories cited internal law enforcement concerns about the legality of air-based sweeps of Americans’ cell phones in major US cities, and detailed secret missions in Mexico that some involved felt had become “kill missions.”
4/To repeat, sources said deputy US Marshals were engaging in lethal extraterritorial military raids, and then when one of their own guys was nearly killed on such an op, USMS hushed it up.
5/After the stories, a senior DoJ official shouted in exasperation at me: “What the f--- does it matter what we do in Mexico?” The main DoJ and Marshals response to the stories was a plumbing effort to stop leaks and punish sources. To be clear, these were Obama years
6/This Thursday, documents were released showing they had focused on one person they suspected of talking to me, seized that employee’s personal electronic devices (legally questionable) and tried to get them charged criminally
7/The inspector general told them to drop it, because it was unclear if that person was a source, but crystal clear they were a government whistleblower. The IG asked Marshals if they would instead like an investigation into accusations of their misconduct in Mexico. Crickets.
8/The DoJ and IG never said anything about the Mexico questions. The secret ops continued. Later, the DoJ issued stricter new policies regarding how Marshals scan Americans’ cell phones en masse when they search for fugitives.
9/The most forceful response to stories in which law enforcement officials raised concerns that their own people may be violating constitutional protections or committing crimes in a foreign country was to try to stop the stories.
10/It’s easy for me as a reporter to say “leak investigations are bad” because it makes reporting harder. That’s *not* my point. No one cares if our jobs are harder or easier, and I wouldn't ask anyone to care about that
11/Fast forward to today, and the obsession with leaks has metastasized so far that the 1 area of agreement among Trump, Comey, House Republicans, the inspector general, the FBI, DoJ, and Democrats is that any info about investigations are “leaks,” and all leaks are bad
12/The FBI, having burned itself, now tries to say as little as possible about as much as possible. As a result, the public space is increasingly filled by conjecture and conspiracy theories
13/Obviously there's real value in some law enforcement secrecy and some leak investigations. But a great number of the leak probes I come across (or come across me) are spurred by senior officials pissed they might have to answer publicly for some internal controversy kept quiet
14/The FBI now has a permanent counterintelligence unit designed to hunt leaks. The inspector general, which once used news stories as a tool to pursue alleged misconduct in government, now eggs the FBI to more forcefully hunt leaks
15/Those are policy choices which will have long term effects on what the public knows - and thinks it knows - about how the government works. The arc of the moral universe is long, but in this area it is bending toward nonsense
16/Finally, at a time when agents and deputies are doing dangerous work without paychecks, it's worth remembering there are many, many many good people at the Marshals and elsewhere, who risk their own wellbeing to do the right thing
You can follow Devlin Barrett.
Tip: mention @threader_app on a Twitter thread with the keyword “compile” to get a link to it.
Enjoy Threader? Tell @jack.
Download Threader on iOS.