Chasing leaks fuels paranoia

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin used his first senior staff meeting last month to tell his new aides he would not tolerate leaks to the news media.
Current and former officials said that in a departure from past practice, access to a classified computer system at the White House has been tightened by political appointees to prevent professional staffers from seeing memos being prepared for the new president.
And at the Department of Homeland Security, some officials said they fear a witch hunt is under way for the leaker of a draft intelligence report which found little evidence that citizens of seven countries covered by Trump’s now-suspended travel ban pose a threat to the United States.
The clampdown has fuelled paranoia among Washington career civil servants who say it appears designed to try to limit the flow of information inside and outside government and deter officials from talking to the media about topics that could result in negative stories.
Several officials said some employees fear their phone calls and e-mails may be monitored and that they are reluctant to speak their minds during internal discussions.
In addition, the sources say that limits imposed on the flow of information have blindsided cabinet-level officials on some major issues and led to uncertainty among foreign governments about US policy.
In perhaps the most trenchant effort to deter leaks, White House spokesman Sean Spicer demanded that some aides there surrender their phones so they could be checked for calls or texts to reporters, but the word of inspection quickly leaked.
At the State Department, the fear of getting caught in a leak or running afoul of White House positions is so acute that some officials will discuss issues only face-to-face rather than use phones, email, texts or other applications. — Reuters