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Julian Assange; CIA entrance hall. Photo supplied

Under a proposed US law, any journalist who, had revealed the names of “covert” CIA officers that had engaged in torture or ordered drone strikes on civilians would now be subject to prosecution.

Journalists will face punishment even if such newsworthy incidents occurred years or decades prior or the officer in question lives in the United States.

Free speech is facing an uphill battle with alternative media already censored and blocked by Google’s search algorithms. The proposed law is yet another obstacle and the US Congress has not stopped the advance of censorship.

The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) seems to be targeting journalists who write the “wrong things”. According to Tech Dirty, the CIA wants to see the expansion of a 37-year-old law that would block reporters from covering national security issues, report on leaked documents – as the unfortunate Julian Assange did with Wikileaks.

As a result of Philip Agee’s actions in 1975, there are currently very few limits to what reporters are able to write about concerning covert operatives working abroad.

In 1975,  the disillusioned CIA case officer published a memoir about his years with the CIA. Attached to his memoir – which detailed his growing discontentment with the CIA’s clandestine support of various dictators – was a list of 250 CIA agents or informants.

In response to this disclosure, the US Congress passed the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), which made disclosing the identity of covert intelligence agents a crime.

The IIPA however tried to protect journalists by limiting the definition of “covert agent” to agents serving abroad and only those who were currently working outside the US when the disclosure occurred.

It also required of the government to give evidence that the person making the disclosure was “engaged in a pattern of activities intended to identify and expose” covert agents. The law was amended in 1999 to expand the coverage to include covert agents working abroad within five years of the disclosure.

The CIA now wants all these protections for journalists removed, including the term “overseas”. This would allow the CIA as well as all other intelligence agencies, to designate any individual as “protected” by the IIPA in perpetuity.

Reporters could thus face prison if they report about things the government wants to keep from the prying eyes of the public.

In fact, the CIA explicitly complained about the revelations in the media of the agency’s Bush-era torture programme in its proposal to Congress demanding IIPA expansion.

The New York Times has meanwhile obtained a private CIA memo in which it lobbied members of Congress on this issue. As “justification” section, the CIA noted:

“Particularly with the lengths organizations such as WikiLeaks are willing to go to obtain and release sensitive national security information, as well as incidents related to past Agency programs, such as the RDI [Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation — a euphemism used to describe the CIA’s illegal torture program] investigation, the original congressional reasoning mentioned above for a narrow definition of ‘covert agent’ no longer remains valid.”

But is it healthy for an administration to wield the power to prevent journalists from publishing illegal acts undertaken by the government?