A top official at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) directed staffers not to share “nonpublic information” with journalists on Thursday as the agency appeared to attempt to shut down leaks to the media.
Chip Fulghum wrote in an memo obtained by BuzzFeed News that agency personnel risked civil, criminal, or on-the-job consequences by providing information that was not public record to journalists.
“A violation of the public trust might arise, for example, if DHS personnel disclose nonpublic information or use it for their own personal benefit, such as for monetary gain, or for the private gain of others,” he wrote, according to BuzzFeed.
“[S]uch unauthorized use or disclosure would be considered a misuse of position and, depending on the nature of the information disclosed, could expose the DHS employee to personal criminal, civil, or administrative consequences,” Fulghum reportedly continued.
DHS officials did not immediately return a request for comment on his remarks Thursday evening. Former officials with the agency told BuzzFeed that the contents of the memo appeared to indicate that it came in response to a significant leak of information within DHS.
“There have been so many leaks throughout the administration. This sounds like there is some leak that is different in kind and that they are trying to make sure it is the last of its kind,” Scott Shuchart, a former senior adviser with DHS, told the news outlet.
The memo also addressed the proper protocol for whistleblowers to release information on criminal activity within DHS, which a former counsel with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services told BuzzFeed appeared to be a direct attempt to chill whistleblowers from coming forward.
“It starts with slapping people down, scaring them and then turning around — ‘I know you have whistleblower protections,’ but the average person is not a lawyer and even if they are a lawyer, if they are not in this area of whistleblower protections it is a little unnerving,” Ur Jaddou said, according to the news outlet. “It would make you think twice about doing your duty.”
The Trump administration has battled politically-damaging leaks since Trump became president in 2017, and earlier this year opened up an investigation to determine which White House staffer was responsible for leaking the president’s schedule to members of the press.