Sen. Ron Wyden is chastising a recent policy directive while highlighting new whistleblower protections in the intelligence bill that the Senate quietly passed Wednesday evening .
In a widely-reported April directive, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. prohibited intelligence agency personnel from making unauthorized contact with members of the media. In the view of Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who has been a longtime skeptic of surveillance programs, the policy could be implemented in far too many circumstances.
"If you're an employee of an intelligence agency and if you have a family member who likes to post or retweet articles about national security, suddenly having a conversation with that family member about important issues like NSA surveillance or the war in Afghanistan could lead to you getting punished for having unauthorized contact with the media," Wyden said in a Thursday floor speech, saying the policy could include information that isn't classified.
Wyden focused much of his floor remarks touting new whistleblower language in the fiscal 2014 intelligence authorization that moved through a mostly empty Senate chamber by voice vote on Wednesday. He pointed to the changes made in intelligence gathering following the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"Those important efforts to protect our people from terror were also accompanied by a lot of overreaching by the intelligence leadership," Wyden said. "In recent years, I think it's fair to say reformers have made some real progress in our efforts to address that overreach, and now with the Patriot Act and other measures coming before us, and the country really understanding what's at stake, I think it's going to be possible to make additional progress."
"The reason I came to the floor today to discuss whistle-blowers and the ability of intelligence employees to speak out is a lot of the progress that we have seen recently would not have happened without whistle-blowers and without some of the intelligence agency employees who are willing to risk their very career to draw attention to real and serious problems," Wyden said. "I also want to make note of the fact that there were journalists, journalists who worked hard to report the facts responsibly and ensure and inform public debate that is so essential to our democracy."