A top Homeland Security Department official warned all department employees Tuesday that anyone caught leaking "classified, controlled unclassified, and draft information" to "external entities" risks "violating agency policy and potentially federal law," and encouraged employees to report anybody they suspected of leaking such information. The email, from Randolph D. Alles, was leaked to the media almost immediately.
— Ken Klippenstein (@kenklippenstein) October 13, 2020
"This is another way to say to people: People are watching you," former lead DHS official Ur Jaddou told BuzzFeed News. "It is not just us, but your fellow colleagues now have an eye on you." And it isn't the first time DHS officials have warned employees against leaking information to the media.
In fact, "threats like these are a hallmark of this administration's attempts to control the narrative, and they aren't always couched as requests," Irvin McCullough and Addison Rodriguez, both of the Government Accountability Project, wrote in The Washington Post earlier Tuesday. "In the past three years, the Trump administration has let loose a flood of gag orders across federal agencies," and those "gag orders can run afoul of federal whistleblower law."
"Government workers have the right to blow the whistle," McCullough and Rodgriguez write. "That right is required by law to be outlined in all agency communications that restrict their workers' speech — either to their colleagues, Congress, or the media." To make sure the laws are enforced, they add, "Congress should investigate all illegal gags, and a new president should correct this problem permanently."