The U.S. government is threatening to apply new penalties and sanctions on its own officials when they reference reports of leaked documents in the public domain.
Failure to comply with the new policy ''may result in the imposition of civil and administrative penalties, and may result in the loss of security clearances and accesses,'' according to the pre-publication review policy for the Office of Director of National Intelligence.
Director James Clapper Jr., who lied to Congress in 2011 when asked "if any kind of data at all" was being collected on millions of Americans, issued a related policy back in March which bars all intelligence officials from unauthorized communication with journalists regarding any information, even unclassified, on intelligence matters.
The new policy was signed last month, and states that officials ''must not use sourcing that comes from known leaks, or unauthorized disclosures of sensitive information ... The use of such information in a publication can confirm the validity of an unauthorized disclosure and cause further harm to national security.''
It is part of a growing collection of firm rules gradually reducing the ability of government agencies to acknowledge and discuss information which the general population is well-acquainted with. In many cases, they formalize existing norms which may not have been universally respected.
Some proposed policies have been stalled. In 2012 the Senate Intelligence Committee wrote an amendment that would have severely hindered the ability of intelligence officials to give unclassified briefings. After strong lobbying against the amendment, it was eventually withdrawn.
But some say the trend of covert protection of public-interest information in Washington is clear.
Steve Aftergood, a government secrecy specialist for the Federation of American Scientists, has said that such policies are "likely to be effective in reducing the quality, independence and critical content of intelligence-related information that is available to the press and the public.''