The Intercept Publishes Bogus "Exclusive Leak" Of Material Publicly Available Online

Beyond presenting banal publicly available information as a blockbuster leak, the site wildly misrepresented its contents: No, the U.S. military is not targeting socialism.

On Tuesday, left-wing news site The Intercept published a story by reporter Ken Klippenstein purporting to have received an exclusively leaked military document which, according to Klippenstein, equates socialists with terrorists and indicates that those who hold socialist views are the target of counter-terrorism efforts.

The story was tweeted by Klippenstein in a tweet that has so far garnered over ten thousand retweets at the time of publishing.

But the supposedly leaked material The Intercept flamboyantly hyped as “exclusive” — to imply it was some red-hot government secret which Klippenstein intrepidly unearthed — is, in fact, nothing of the kind. It is merely publicly available material that has long been online on a U.S. Department of Homeland Security website, as well as on a free online quiz site. That fact was initially noticed by freelance writer Jeryl Bier in response to Klippenstein’s tweet.

Even more misleadingly, The Intercept completely misrepresented what this document is to make it appear sinister and nefarious. What appears to have been “leaked” to Klippenstein is not some secret government plan to round up socialists — as he suggested — but rather just a quiz sheet of material from an anti-terrorism policy document prepared by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the Obama administration, published in 2010, and available for download on the Homeland Security Digital Library website. That’s confirmed by the training sheet’s multiple references to the document’s title (JP 3-07.2) as well as the relevant chapters from which the quiz questions are derived.

What’s more, that quiz material itself is also available online on quiz site Quizlet, with the material being broken up into flash cards. The site indicates the material was posted four years ago, but it is not known who posted the material.

Beyond the the clear lack of exclusivity of the material and the extremely questionable newsworthiness of the story in light of this information, The Intercept’s presentation of the document’s contents is also wildly misleading.

Klippenstein contends that the document shows that the military considers socialism to be a “terrorist” ideology and that it considers socialists to be targets of anti-terror activity. But what the material is actually conveying (which can be confirmed in Chapter 2 of the document) is that those who commit terror in the name of any political ideology — be it anarchism, neo-nazism, or socialism — simply fall under the category of “political terrorists.” In other words, there is no assertion that socialism or socialists (or anarchy or anarchists) are themselves targets of anti-terror operations, but rather that those who commit acts of terror in the name of those ideologies are considered terrorists (and specifically, political terrorists).

And while it may strike some as odd to include socialism in that list given the lack of socialism-inspired terror attacks in recent memory, socialism has in fact been one of many political ideologies espoused by individuals and groups who have planned or committed violent terrorist acts in the U.S. And this was particularly the case in the 1970s, when left-wing militants made up a plurality of terrorist attacks committed in the U.S.

It is unclear at this time why The Intercept chose to present the document’s contents this way, and whether it knew at the time of publishing that the material had already been publicly available.

Update:

The Intercept’s Ken Klippenstein and Ryan Grim have responded in an attempt to defend the merits of their story, and we have published a follow-up to address their response.

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