News & Politics

News Organizations Want to Make It Easy for Federal Workers to Leak

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The Donald Trump Administration represents more than just a change in Washington’s dominant political philosophy–in its first couple of days in power, it’s battered the National Park Service, whacked the EPA around, and stifled the Agriculture Department and Health and Human Services. (It later unstifled USDA.) Oh, and it froze federal hiring.

Maybe the Trump Administration will share future federal moves with journalists or via Twitter; there is little President Trump likes more than dropping a nugget–especially if it’s something his fans might see as a middle finger to the press or other coastal elites–and watching everyone scramble.

But he can’t tweet every policy change. Which is why the Intercept, for instance, sent out a call for federal employees to share “behavior that you believe is unethical, illegal, or damaging to the public interest.” Other publishers have started putting out the word: I saw ProPublica’s instructions for secure leaking got a lot on Twitter Tuesday, and links to similar documents from the Washington Post, the New York Times, and other news sources are suddenly abound. The message: We’ll keep you safe.

Most of these outfits encourage tipsters to use the SecureDrop system, which offers a lot of protection. But it requires you to download a special browser package, perhaps a dunning prospect to a population that isn’t uniformly on the bleeding edge of technology. The Times, ProPublica, and the Intercept all mention alternatives, including good ol’ snail mail–still a remarkably safe way to transmit data, and how Times reporter Susanne Craig got Trump’s tax records.

Nothing’s 100 percent safe from prying eyes, but all this is a good reminder for anyone who wants to make a difference that the best stories may not turn out to be in the briefing room. It’s important to chase down Trump’s words. It’s even more important to get your hands on his documents.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.

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