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Leaks: A Double-Edged Sword | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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White House spokesman Sean Spicer holds a press briefing at the White House in Washington January, 2017, Reuters

Washington- Reuters last week reported on confidential statements it obtained from United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Mnuchin said that he will plug leaks reaching journalists, particularly on affairs concerning the treasury. Trump’s aide also warned that wiretapping and monitoring digital activity is a measure that will be taken against anyone suspected of disclosing confidential information to media outlets.

The Secretary used his first senior staff meeting to tell his new aides he would not tolerate leaks to the news media.

Asked about Mnuchin’s comments to his senior staff, a Treasury spokesman said: “Secretary Mnuchin had a discussion with staff about confidential information not being shared with the media or any other sources. In the course of that conversation, the idea of checking phones was not discussed.”

Current and former officials said that in a departure from past practice, access to a classified computer system at the White House has been tightened by political appointees to prevent some professional staffers from seeing memos being prepared for the new president.

The news agency reported on statements made by several officials within the President Donald Trump administration: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials told Reuters about a search under way for the leaker of a draft intelligence report relevant to the travel ban imposed on seven Muslim-majority countries.

Reuters also published statements disclosed by officials requesting complete anonymity, not even a mention of post or relevance, who spoke of tension and anxiety striking amidst staff members as a result of the Trump administration’s determination to plug the leakage of confidential information.

Trump, during his presidential campaign, toned up his battle against journalists, using slurs such as: ‘lies’, ‘fraud’ and ‘corruption’. He repeatedly tweeted using the expression ‘fake news’.

Since his inauguration in January, Trump even further stepped up his anti-media rhetoric.

He first started using expressions like, ‘enemy of the American people,’ then went after government leaks being placed at the disposal of journalists’ reporting.

Speaking in a lengthy and intense press conference, Trump slammed news reports based on leaks from anonymous officials, Trump acknowledged that the leaks coming out of his administration are “real,” but said the news is still “fake.”

He also threatened journalists that the US Justice Department will kickstart investigating leaks divulged illegally.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer, two weeks ago, took the fight against media a step further first accusing journalists unveiling government intel of national treason and a threat of homeland security.

Spicer also said that he and his office staff are closely probing the leaks.

Politico, a news outlet that focuses on Congress, the White House, campaigns, lobbyists and issues, wrote that as “an emergency meeting,” convened at Spicer’s office, staffers were told to dump their phones on a table for a “phone check,” to prove they had nothing to hide.

The phone checks included whatever electronics staffers were carrying when they were summoned to the unexpected follow-up meeting, including government-issued and personal cellphones.

New York Times reporter James Risen says that he was almost sent to jail during former President Barack Obama’s administration for his whistleblowing leaks on US intelligence cooperating with Iranian intelligence to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.

Risen said the Obama administration, contradictory to lenience with leakers it was criticized for by the public, prosecuted nine cases involving informers and leakers, compared with three by all previous administrations combined.

Leonard Downie, a former executive editor of the Washington Post, said it was too early to make historical comparisons, and that it is rare to learn about an administration’s internal efforts to impose message discipline.

Columbia Journalism Review, a Bi-monthly publication of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, writes that leaks are a double-edged sword.

Officials and politicians may disclose classified information in order to push personal agendas, but one shouldn’t overlook that, at the same time, journalists are also procuring data and evidence that can harm the very same agendas.

On the other hand, many people quoted have agendas and use news stories either as trial balloons or to attempt to impact political outcomes.

Trial balloons are a tentative measure taken or statement made to see how a new policy will be received by the public. Hence, leaks and primary revelations will not only test waters but also aid in the decision-making process after having taken to account the public’s opinion.

Leaking information could also bring to bay political opponents, rivals, and even other hostile governments.

If that be the case, the leaker is eager to spread the news, and the journalist securely accepts, because publishing such news will help with ratings and add value to the outlet they report for.

However, when leaking information concerning homeland security or military tactics, there is tremendous hesitation on behalf of both the informer (who could lose his job, forced to resign, or tried) and the reporter (who can be tried).