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tv   Panel on Classified Information the Media  CSPAN  February 2, 2023 9:22am-10:00am EST

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c-span2. >> tonight agriculture department officials testifying on legislation commonly known as the farm bill which sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy for the next five years. watch the hearing at 8:00 eastern on c-span2. c-span now, our free mobile video app or anytime online at a group of reporters discuss their experiences dealing with classified information and the legal and ethical question about publishing classified material. the event was part of a day long conference about classified documents and transparency. >> well, we have a stellar panel to follow up on what was a great discussion with senator
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cornyn. our panel is on the media, secrecy and transparency and i can't think of a better group to discuss these topics with. i'm going to go ahead and do an introduction of each of the panelists and then we're going to do this in a q & a format and also leave some time for your questions at the end. first, on the immediate left here is adam goldman reports on the fbi for the new york times and part of the team that won a pulitzer prize in 2018 for national reporting on russia and the presidential election. previously he covered national security for the washington post and worked on the investigative team at the associated press where he was part of the reporting on the department that won the 2012 pulitzer prize for investigative reporting. he's the co-author of enemies
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within inside the n.y.p.d. spying unit and bin laden's final thoughts against america. and then the senior affairs reporter, josh covers specialing counsel robert mueller's investigation as well as the initial inquiry into the trump-russia saga. and then the cnn, fox news, new york times and new republic and reports on the justice department and legal controversies. just before president obama's inauguration of 2009 is when he joined politico as a white house reporter returning to a beat he covered as white house correspondent for abc news. in 2019, his politico magazine report on the secret deal between u.s. and australia, dealing with the resettlement of refugees was a finalist for scoop of the year in australia, the most prestigious award.
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and prodigious user out of federal agencies and we're going to, of course, talk some more about this and get into this with the panelists. next to josh, dustin for the wall street journal, looking at nation state hacking conflicts governor surveillance. before joining, he worked at reuters as national journal and his reporting recognized including by the white house correspondents association, the gerald logue award, and-- a journal for the associated press, covering national security, his article, from a
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year long investigation of law enforcement misconduct, won awards from the american bar association and associated press media editors and nominated for the pulitzer prize, also was a reporter on immigration and the border in texas and part of the team nominated for the pulitzer prize for national reporting. so we're very fortunate to have this panel and for them to take time out of their very busy schedules to come down and discuss this important topic. adam, let me start with you. a lot of discussion about overclassification, improper classification at the conference and reasons for that. just from your perspective, being a long-time reporter in this, i wanted to ask you about what you perceive in terms of, do you see overclassification and improper classification as reasons for why people make
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disclosures to the media, trying to cover up misconduct or embarrassment, contrary to the proper use of the classification system? >> let me just start by saying that the government does not like me publishing their secrets. and i don't know if people know this, but the obama administration, the department of justice subpoenaed my phone records as a part of investigations and the trump administration came around and subpoenaed my phone numbers and tried to get nigh e-mails and a judge didn't allow that. i've been targeted by democratic and republican administrations and definitely do not like me publishing their secrets. for the most parts, i think it's difficult for me to sort of address the are things over-classified or misclassified? i do remember when the wicky leaks happened and you had the
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cables and junior diplomate in bulgaria, go down to the local bodega, newspapers, put them in a cable and back to washington and marked secret. and literally reading the newspaper, and from my perspective, and we wrote a story about it, that seemed to be overclassification or misclassification. you know, i have come across secrets and published based on them, that seem to be appropriately classified. we wrote a big story about how the cia lost many of their agents in china. it was a big deal. it was a big blow to the cia and they got really angry we wrote about that, but we thought that the government needed to know that the agency had blown it in china and i think one of the reasons and the government didn't seize my phone, didn't try to get my phone numbers on that, but i know they had a scorched earth
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trying to find out who provided that information and we felt it was important that this particular intelligence agency had dropped the ball on one of the most important, you know, most important targets. so, as a why people come to us, i think generally something like me like the snowden dumps, the he wikileaks dumps, that's not how we do our jobs, we forge with people, we learn who is trust wore worthy and people come to us and they tell us what they think is wrongdoing or the american public should know about this because it's deeply disturbing or embarrassing. people who come to us for political reasons are really not people i like to deal with. they have motive. they have agenda and sometimes i find them to be dishonest. so, those people are typically
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not the people i deal with. so that, i think that sort of sums up some of my experience. >> other comments before i move on? >> how do you deal with, you talked a little about people with an agenda. how do you deal with the government doing, perhaps partial declassification to try to control a narrative or you talked about somebody coming to you with an agenda or press, taking a policy disagreement that they lost to the press. how do you deal with that? how do you figure that out? how do you make those determinations where somebody is trying to kind of spin you and control your narrative? >> you know, what i try to do is meet people within the government and not just in the fbi, but all over the government and try to have, make sure that there are enough people where i can bounce one thing off for another. and you know, when we run things in the paper, we just did a 5,000-- almost a 5,000 word piece on this investigation being done
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by john durham, you know, that took months to do and it was extremely difficult and we, you know, everything had to be-- we don't just source one detail on one person. we bounce it off, try to bounce it off three or four people to make sure it's accurate. we don't have the luxury-- that's what i was saying about snowden and these sort of dumps. we don't typically have the luxury of documents in front of us. we have to go to people and rely on their memories and so that's how we -- that's how we vet the information and you know, if people are transparent with us in these relationships that consist over a very long time, you know, the information is-- it tends to be more reliable, i've had somebody in the intelligence community tell me, you know, years ago tell me total garbage and it was clear that, you know, he wanted me to publish a story and it was put
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in-- and he went on to do a job later and he was clear, it was politically motivated, but i never touched it and what you find is you end up wasting a lot of time giving you politically motivated garbage and it's not worth going down that rabbit hole and they're trustworthy and given you information over the years without an agenda. >> josh, your thoughts on check being official or purportedly official information on the government and sourcing and how you do that, how you approach it? >> i mean, i agree with everything adam said. i think, you know, it's largely a process of trianglelation that is not that different from the way tension analysts tend to operate, as i understand it, from the way historians tend to operate. you try to get as much of the public record as you can and then you start talking to
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people and you try to talk to as many people as you can. i think the difference with-- when you're doing this in the context of journalism. it's very important to have people that you trust at a minimum to steer you away from things that are either have an agenda like adam said, or are completely wrong because people try to feed us things that are completely wrong, sometimes intentionally, sometimes they misunderstand the situation, sometimes somebody at the very bottom rung gets alarmed about something that isn't actually what they're perceiving, and so, while i can understand why some people could be suspicious about it, it's important to have a degree of relationship. that doesn't mean we stop working on something because one person in one office said this isn't right, it usually means we don't publish it the next day and we go back and we triple check what happened,
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feed that back through the original sources and then usually, sort of arrive at some version of the truth that you think is pretty reliable. that's the method that we usually try to use to get to the bottom of these kinds of stories. now, i should say, you kind of alluded to document. if you get a document and you don't know if the document is real and i'd say the way we handle those situations is very, very carefully because, you know, there are a bunch of stories, i'm not going to name any particular organizations or stories, but a number of episodes in the last few years where information that was published, led almost directly to the source, the original source of information being exposed. so when you're trying to verify something like that, you know, i think by and large now, people, reporters stay away from delivering had a copy of the document back to the agency that originated because that has proven to be a problematic
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method of reporting. so, you may summarize it, you may give other details. i've just gone through this in the last few months where you give them enough to let them know that you have something without actually turning the actual thing over and that usually produces some information about whether it's real or not. >> dustin, do you have a comment on that? >> yeah, just to pick up on what the great journalist said. you know, the tiangleation you want to double, triple, get as many sources as you can. it's hard when the government has so many secrets and will not share with the public or the media so we do encounter then more people who maybe do have some concerns that they want to bring forward or maybe do have a bias or an agenda who are going to come and speak to the press and we always try to get it as correct as possible, but the--
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i guess all comments we have been talking about the governments challenges with trust and the public because of classification, but it makes our job much, much more difficult to get to the truth, the most perfect version of it or accuracy of it when we rely on human sources coming forward, speaking to us and trying to leak something and you're potentially facing severe penalty for that, and so i just think that's something that i don't think the government really recognizes sometimes is that the problems that they have with the way they're being covered is in large part or at least somewhat to the fact that they are so resistant to disclosing secrets that in often cases, many times are not at that sensitive and it makes our jobs, the public, and maintaining trust in the media, a bit harder as well as
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the government's job to trust with the public harder as well. and just to your point about classification, and i think that's a challenge as well when an agency might say we're going to provide you a certain data point, but we're not going to tell you more specifics about it and then we're supposed to trust it. that's not our job to trust what they're saying. i think back to the disclosures and the detailed records program, a first major story that emerged out of that and there were-- the talking points that came out from nsa and others, well, the call detail records, the metadate at that, domestic metadata mass contributed to preventing, i don't remember the number. but 94 terrorism plots from that and congress and media and others scrutinized that and back and forth and came back and said, well, actually it's
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more like 30 and then, there's another round of that, you know, we really looked at the numbers and maybe a handful like six or seven and then a couple of months later, under further scrutiny, zero specific examples, zero they could point to and say that this problem actually prevented a terrorism attack from occurring, but that was not what initially was disclosed. what initially was disclosed was a partial information of a classified program that ended up being under further scrutiny, i think, some would say misleading and that makes our job harder as well so i think all of these things are just, you know, things that the government needs to grapple with, but they need to understand when we're doing our jobs, the reason why we're skeptical of the claims being made about different programs and different classified issues because often the full story is not told.
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>> of course, we're talking about something that is governed by legal framework, the publishing, the refeed and the publishing of classified information and i just wanted to explore a little bit how, if any way, you think about that and how that applies to the press. of course, the u.s. government has a governing classified information, you've also heard about some of the problems and challenges of those frame works. there are laws on the books that prohibit the receipt of national defense information. >> not very good ones. >> and even more strict laws on publishing classified intelligence on communications intelligence, dustin. maybe i'll start with you, dustin, adam, whoever wants to weigh in. are these laws part of this conversation? we're talking about it as if we get the information, we check it, we make a balancing test.
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do these laws factor into the conversations that happen when you get this information? >> well, there's really-- there's really, i mean, for me, no, i don't look at information and wonder, whoa, is this fbi, is this secret, foreign, it doesn't matter. the test, is it news worthy, should the public know about it, when i go to the agency, even though it's a bureaucratic government agency we have to be fair and we say, okay, is there any reason not to publish this, right? there has been one extraordinary example in my career they made it-- the agency made a very impressive argument and i could not publish the story and i really wanted to. so, but it was the responsible thing to do and i ate it. so, but you know, we don't typically look at things and wonder, you know, well, it's secret, should we not do it? i think one thing we're very--
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at least i'm very careful about is, you know, we don't -- you can't ask people, you know, i don't ask people to go and rummage through computers to pull something for me. if people want to provide me something, that's fine. >> you're sort of a passive recipient and i think that's an important distinction when it comes to journalism that people want to provide information to us and of course, we receive it, but we're not asking-- i'm not-- you know, i don't ask people to go in computers and pull things out and give them to me because that, you know, that would be breaking the law, so-- >> but of course, all the sites do now make available, drop boxes and ways to communicate and encourage people to contact them. >> right. >> so, there is-- >> you think that's solicitation? >> i'm making the point. [laughter] >> that's out there.
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i wasn't expecting a legal opinion under solicitation, but i would say clearly, as you know, there are in many news media sites, it's a feature of the internet, contacted us via these encrypted means. it's not entirely free of making yourself available through encrypted and other means to do that. >> well, just-- this is, as you know, an important-- like the wikileaks, julian assange prosecution and that's playing itself out, but there are a lot of concerns within the fourth estate about the implications of how that might resolve itself, but, yeah, i think that the idea that having a publicly available mechanisms for people to contact us securely is very different than sort of coercing someone into
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stealing classified information or hacking into classified data bases pan instructing them on how to do that. you know, i'm not in any way opining on the wikileaks case itself, but those are clearly different things and i don't think any of us will be taking down our, you know, our security drop links anytime soon. >> do you think there's a misperception out there? do you encounter that that people think you're soliciting and going and doing that or do you not encounter that? >> i mean, i typically don't encounter that. i look for good stories and if people want to talk to me about them, they can. >> what we are talking about this balance here and adam talked about testing news worthiness and media will make a judgment on this. i want today get your perspective on how do you approach this in terms of balancing transparency versus the government perhaps saying that if you publish this, it's
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going to cause significant or grave harm to the united states? how do you approach this tension where kind of like the media, you almost have this power to resolve it and it's on the media to resolve this? adam talked about the government having to make the case to him about why it will cause harm. you know, even though if something is properly classified by its nature, it's supposed to-- the publication of it would cause grave harm to the united states. how do you approach that tension? >> i think about the ukraine warm on a personal level for the ap and everyone on stage, we have colleagues that were in russia or in ukraine that are cycling in and out and i think that the idea of you're reporting something puts someone in danger is maybe more real to me in my career now than it's ever been. and from the government perspective i think about early in the war there were some --
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there were some comments that we were getting about the -- there was intelligence sharing that was discussed that senator cornyn talked about, dni talked about yesterday that have got an active sharing of intelligence with ukraine. there were restrictions on targeting and still are, but restrictions changed in the first weeks of the war and i was one of the reporters who got information about that and i would have these conversations where i would get certain details, certain specifics, certain suggestions and there were very active conversations with people at odni about what makes-- >> office of director of national intelligence. >> that's right, office of director of national intelligence, what makes sense to publish, what's changing, how it's the same. you know, there are things that they made in my opinion good arguments about withholding, but then there were things that i don't think they wanted
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anything out there about these guidelines even changing, but we did what we felt was at the intersection of disclosure to the point that i think adam and others have made, as well as protecting people and i think the only other thing i would say is earlier in the day we were talking about how humans and artificial intelligence programs can benefit from a broader corpus of classified information, for example, if a program is looked through 10 million documents, the next 10 million a better sense what's classified correctly and incorrectly and better recommendations. as someone relatively new to the beat as well, i find it helpful to see the relatively limited information unclassified so i can get sense what makes sense when a source is telling you something, who is spinning you and all of that information.
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and we have to make judgment calls and those are very difficult and you have to trust people that they're supposed to be an adversarial relationship between the journalist and the government that they cover, but it's just realized on human relationship and judgment call and hope at the end of the day you do what's best. >> let me-- go ahead. >> can i comment on that. one of the things the question which harms we're trying to prevent and whose harms you're trying to prevent. when you're reporting on topics that don't have to do with life and death, they can be simpler. let the information out, whatever happens happens. one of the problems with a war, there are at least two sides in a war, right? so when you say we're going to try to reduce harm in that context, suddenly you're in a very complicated conversation, and it's a conversation that i think, you know, we have mentioned at wikileaks, that people that ran or run
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wikileaks have a different perspective on the world and the appropriate role. united states in that world, than many americans do. i think all of us are work for primarily american-owned or american-based news organizations, but not every news organization in the world is american-owned. not everyone has the same outlook. some publications in different parts of the world have editorial views are almost openly hostile to u.s. foreign policy. so, some of the things that were done in the past, i think, by odni or their predecessors, the cia and different organizations, there was assumption of a common frame of reference, if the publisher of the new york times or the publisher of politico gets in the same room, where actually comes to mind, actually owned by a german company so maybe we're not an american news
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organization anymore, but if you get in the same room, is everyone going to have the same basic perspective how bad it would be if these three things happened? maybe not. >> i'll give one quick example. there was an american contractor in pakistan who killed, how many people did he kill? >> two. >> two, and he killed two people and we all found out that all the intelligence reporters we found out, this is years ago, we found out he worked for the cia, right. so he killed these people on the streets. pakistanis and they had him in a pakistani prison and wondering what's going on and we found out he worked for the cia and the cia was if you run the story you're going to kill him. they will kill him if you run this story and we're like, we're actually high bar he's in a prison and what if-- we didn't know what was going on in the prison and maybe they were going to kill him and we all stood down and then the guardian, right, in london said
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well, we're running that story. and ross did, and what was the name. ray davis. >> raymond davis. >> yeah, raymond davis and he was released three weeks later, two weeks later. so i'm not saying that was the right call, but you know, i didn't see that coming. so-- >> can i quickly, josh, you made a really good point and that's part of the answer, too, is that we don't play for one team, none of us do. but the hard part is we're all based in washington and i think that's where having conversations with colleagues around the world and making sure that we develop a neutral and nonpartisan perspective to the extent that that's possible is critical. >> has this changed the balance in terms of the pressure to publish because the internet, the fact there-- we all work for organizations you may participate in
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conversations with the government and going back decades prior to the internet there would be limited ability to publish and certainly the ability to just dump out raw information now, if you don't publish something and you talked about how people may approach you, adam, that are untrustworthy or the way you approach those things, does this increase the pressure to publish when you know there is a variety of outlets, massive proliferation of them, it's not just these outlets, that does not factor into it in terms of publish? >> it's dangerous to operate that way, because when you rush, you make mistakes. that's in anything you do in life, it's not just journalism, right? so and there are too many-- there are too many land mines in this reporting and i always say there's not a gun to our head, we don't have to publish the story because there's nothing worse than publishing it and knowing there's a mistake or god forbid, the
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story the premise of it is wrong. so i will never be pressured into a publishing a story. it not worth it at the end of the day. you publish it, what's the shelf life of some of these stories anyway. >> what if the government tells you that it's going to cause harm, but they're concerned, okay, i get that, but if i hold onto it, it will just go someplace else so i might as well just go ahead. >> i know the government-- i know one particular instance the government i wrote a story at "the washington post" about how the cia and the ma sigh killed someone in damascus, and i thought we would tell the american people we used a car bomb to kill somebody. and you may think there's no difference between a drone and a car bomb. and we had been sitting on the
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story for 18 months and i didn't realize that and they were scrambling out to get the story out and our story was done and we published and beat them, but we weren't-- we weren't racing against. >> yeah, i think of another example that comes to mind is during the trump administration the ukraine whistleblower complaint that led to the first impeachment, before it was cool impeachment. [laughter] >> people forget there are two in rapid succession. there was, you know, a lot of interest politically at the time and, you know, in large parts of the public and the identity of the whistleblower and there were lots of large media organizations that did not publish the name of the whistleblower due to, you know, i haven't spoken to all of
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these media organizations, but concerns what publishing the name or the identity, presumed identity of that person would do. but the identity was out there on the internet. like you could find it if you looked hard enough, there were other outlets, lawmakers even at times who had sort of referenced it and that was not a decision that seemed to be made because, oh, well, the information is out there therefore we're going to do what we think is ethically responsible and just join the fray. the organization's involved, the newspapers and so forth would sit down and have the conversation, yeah, what is the benefit here of doing this, what is the public interest in it and what is the harm and i think you can disagree on the merits of any civic case, but that was not something that the people that in our news room or other news rooms was being dictated by what information was already available on twitter or on certain blogs or
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that kind of thing. >> let me shift gears for a minute and get away from unauthorized disclosures which makes me sweat to even say those words, but and talk a little about the more formal process, mandatory declassification review, foia, use of presidential libraries. josh, you were on this panel, probably made extensive use of presidential libraries, the clinton libraries, having written on this. could you talk about your experience in using the libraries and the mandatory declassification reviews in foia? >> sure. well, i think you said yesterday or earlier that foia is a very powerful tool and it might be like the way a blunt club is powerful or something like that. it's certainly not. [laughter] >> it doesn't seem like the tool i'd want to use if i was
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having a very difficult surgery because it's not working in that way. so i've used the libraries, the clinton library, the george w. bush library or at least their papers a couple different ways. one is we have these for better or for worse political dynasties at the moment, right? you have the clinton dynasty, the bush dynasty, the, i don't know if you call trump a dynasty, but he may have departed and now trying to come back on the political scene so that provide for reporters all kinds of opportunities to revisit things that were historical and were considered, i think, in the history box, but suddenly are news worthy again. so that's the context in which some of this reporting i've done is going back to records, for example, from the clinton library when, you know, hillary
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clinton was running for president looking again at some of her activities there. you know, it's very much a mixed bag, would be my overall verdict on the situation. there are good nuggets sitting there to be had when these matters become news worthy, but i with describe the overall process in my view as highly dysfunctional. and it's somewhat -- it's not because of the people that work there and i'm sure some of the people here in the room do this kind of work. it's mostly because the system is not operating on timelines that are really congruent with journalism. it's not that helpful to any of us to put in a request and get an answer. adam has a good example of this several years later, it just doesn't help that much and the backlogs are so significant and as some people mentioned earlier, one obstacle to
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getting records, you have people in these foia cues who have gone to court who have court ordered deadlines. sometimes to produce hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and that means that almost everybody else who's waiting has to basically go to the back of the line. the other way i've used the documents and we'll go over to adam, is every time we have judicial appointments or supreme court appointments now, oftentimes those officials have worked as in previous white houses and so, every time that happens it's a huge rush to the presidential libraries and now somewhat of a digital rush to the presidential libraries to get all the records that those people have, you know, have produced, e-mails, so forth, brett kavanaugh, for example, elena kagan had both worked in white houses before, and so, this becomes sort of a field day for journalists to try to go through those records and i have to say in those situations
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it's not only reporters that are asking for those files, but it's actually the senate judiciary committee itself now has -- tends to insist on having a fairly detailed record of those people's prior activities. >> adam. >> i was going to give you a little taste of some foia madness 50 years later. and this was from the nsa and this is dated january 21st, 2021, dear adam goldman, this response to your freedom of information act request of february 22, 2016, which was-- and it's even older than this. which was received by this office, blah, blah, blah on february, quote, all serialized intelligence reports, that's nsa speak for intercepted communications, from june 1st, 1972 to october 1st, 1972,


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