US intel chief James Clapper: journalists reporting on leaked Snowden NSA docs "accomplices" to crime

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In a Senate Judiciary Hearing on NSA surveillance today, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper insinuated dozens of journalists reporting on documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden were "accomplices" to a crime. His spokesman further suggested Clapper was referring to journalists after the hearing had concluded.

If this is the official stance of the US government, it is downright chilling.

Clapper is engaged in the same treatment of journalists that the Justice Department allegedly repudiated just months ago.

During his opening statement to the committee, Clapper said, "Snowden claims that he's won and that his mission has accomplished. If that is so, I call on him and his accomplices to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents." Mashable then reported a DNI spokesman said Clapper meant "anyone who is assisting Edward Snowden further harm our nation through the unauthorized disclosure of stolen documents." The spokesman would not elaborate further.

"Assisting…through unauthorized disclosure" sounds an awful lot like publishing, which is what not only Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Barton Gellman have done, but dozens of reporters and editors at the Washington Post, Guardian, New York Times, Pro Publica, and NBC News.

Ironically, today Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department's new stricter media guidelines will soon be published and are already being followed by the agency. The guidelines stemmed in part from the outrage over the Justice Department calling Fox News reporter James Rosen an unindicted "co-conspirator" in court documents unsealed last year.

After the Fox News controversy erupted, Holder told Congress in response, "As long as I'm attorney general, [the Justice Department] will not prosecute any reporter for doing his or her job" or "target members of the press or discourage them from carrying out their vital work."

If Holder wants to stay true to his word, the Justice Department should repudiate Clapper's remark immediately. Journalists do not become "accomplices" or "co-conspirators" by reporting newsworthy information. They're just good journalists.