How Far Can The Feds Go To Investigate Leaks Like The Drone Memo?

investigateThis week, NBC News published a confidential Justice Department white paper that explains when the U.S. government thinks it’s okay to kill Americans abroad via drone strike. Partying too hard while studying abroad in Florence won’t bring the Predators down on you, but becoming a senior operational leader in a terror group with imminent plans to attack the U.S. will. While questions remain, it does shed some light on when a U.S. citizen can be targeted and executed sans trial, and it’s led the Obama administration to provide classified drone memos to Congress that they had been holding back. The Daily Beast says those in the know about the CIA drone program (that government officials like to pretend doesn’t exist) decided in 2011 not to make the memo public. More than a year later, though, someone leaked the classified 16-page white paper  to the press. If recent events are any indication, there will be an investigation into who that person was, if it’s not known already.

Last month, the Washington Post reported that the Obama administration is trying hard to crack down on leaks of classified information like this through exhaustive searches of government officials’ communications to find evidence of contact with journo types. The hope is that the scrutiny and prosecution of leakers will lead to the “classified-information-faucet” being turned off. The Post reports that the investigations are extremely thorough. They’re not just looking at officials’ Facebook friends lists; they’re using “sophisticated software” to comb through email and phone records for any sign of the leaky culprit:

Former prosecutors said investigators run sophisticated software to identify names, key words and phrases embedded in e-mails and other communications, including text messages, which could lead them to suspects.

Tip to leakers: Don’t include the word “leak” or the phrase “can’t wait til you blow this thing wide open” in your email or texts.

The FBI also looks at officials’ phone records — who called whom, when, for how long. Once they have evidence of contact between officials and a particular journalist, investigators can seek a warrant to examine private e-mail accounts and phone records, including text messages, former prosecutors said.


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