December 17, 2018

Press Freedom

United States

U.S. Air Force Needs to Loosen Grip on WikiLeaks Access

The Hon. Joe Lieberman
Chairman, Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs
706 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator:

The Overseas Press Club is concerned that the U.S. government is reacting to the WikiLeaks in a manner that treads on freedom of the press. Without taking a position on the question of whether the leaks were or were not justified, we can say that the rather heavy-handed action of some branches of government, particularly the Air Force, to stop their people from accessing information is like trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube. The information, while still officially classified, is out there, available to anyone. In effect, it is not longer secret.

The White House early in December issued a directive saying that unauthorized government workers should not read classified material on WikiLeaks. This was followed by a similar ruling in the Library of Congress, of all places. Then the Air Force blocked more than 25 Websites of publications that were carrying the leaked documents and went further by telling its personnel and contractors that they must not access these documents even on their home computers. Should not there have been some legal ruling or court order as basis for this action? It is interesting that neither the Defense Department nor the other armed services have issued any orders of this kind.

Even though there has been no DOD-wide ban on reading WikiLeaks, the ombudsman at Stars & Stripes writes that the newspaper’s staff may not access sites that carry WikiLeaks and that his own work may be subject to editing. The job description for the ombudsman rules out any editorial oversight.

The Overseas Press Club of America, which has a world-wide membership of over 500 leading journalists, frequently writes to foreign governments to protest their interference with freedom of the press. Rarely do we have to address American authorities. However, in this case it seems the governments, especially the Air Force, has overstepped its authority and made itself look foolish by trying to prevent its people from accessing information that is now available worldwide – without adding one jot to our homeland security. May we ask you, Senator, to try to bring these people back to their senses.

Very truly yours,

Jeremy Main
Kevin McDermott
Freedom of the Press Committee

cc:

The Hon. Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
The Pentagon, Room 3E880
Washington, DC 20001

The Hon. Michael B. Donley
Secretary of the Air Force
The Pentagon, Room 4E878
Washington, DC 20330

General Morton B. Schwartz
Chief of Staff
U.S. Air Force
The Pentagon, Room 4E924
Washington, D.C. 20330

The Hon. Douglas Wilson
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs
The Pentagon, Room 2E794
Washington, D.C. 20001

Mr. Mark Prendergast
Ombudsman
Stars & Stripes
529 Fourteenth Street, NW (Suite 350)
Washington, D.C. 20047

Maria Otero
Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520