Tag Archives: Dana Priest

Dana Priest: Eight Steps Reporters Should Take Before Trump Assumes Office

Knight Chair and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Dana Priest.

Photo: Dana Priest.

By Knight Chair Dana Priest.
Reprinted with permission by the Columbia Journalism Review.
Originally published Nov. 14, 2016.

I was on the phone the other day with a senior US official, someone not usually eager to talk to a reporter, when the following conversation occurred:

“Is the FBI likely to follow up on tips that Trump might have some dubious connections to Russia now that he’s been elected?” I asked.

“If they hadn’t begun a serious investigation before the election,” the official responded, “it’s not likely now – unless something were to occur.”

“What do you mean by, ‘something were to occur?'”

“Well, that’s where you all come in.”

Wham! Of course.

With the two houses of Congress controlled by Republicans and a Democratic party in chaos, of course it falls on the shoulders of journalists to deepen the solid investigative work begun during the campaign.

Related: Journalism’s moment of reckoning has arrived.

The new president may merit a brief honeymoon in governing while he figures out what his policies will be and how he will implement them. But we should not wait one nanosecond to lay out the unprecedented set of conflicts of interests he and his family bring to the presidency, to compare his campaign rhetoric with his post-election decisions, and to chronicle post-election moves made by state and local governments where authorities may feel emboldened to push the boundaries of their power and our laws.

While we are dutifully reporting on the presidential transition, we should also dig out our helmets and flack jackets, harden our legal defenses, and get ready for the coming war on transparency. Here are eight steps to take immediately:

Rebuild sources: Call every source you’ve ever had who is either still in government or still connected to those who are. Touch base, renew old connections, and remind folks that you’re all ears.

Join forces: Triangulate tips and sources across the newsroom, like we did after 9/11, when reporting became more difficult.

Make outside partnerships: Reporting organizations outside your own newspaper, especially those abroad and with international reach, can help uncover the moves being considered and implemented in foreign countries.

Discover the first family: Now part of the White House team, Donald Trump’s children and son-in-law are an important target for deep-dive reporting into their own financial holdings and their professional and personal records.

Renew the hunt: Find those tax filings!

Out disinformation: Find a way to take on the many false news sites that now hold a destructive sway over some Americans.

Create a war chest: Donate and persuade your news organization to donate large sums to legal defense organizations preparing to jump in with legal challenges the moment Trump moves against access, or worse. The two groups that come to mind are the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press and the American Civil Liberties Union. Encourage your senior editors to get ready for the inevitable, quickly.

Be grateful: Celebrate your freedom to do hard-hitting, illuminating work by doing much more of it.

Dana Priest is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning national security reporter at The Washington Post and the John S. and James L. Knight Chair in Public Affairs Journalism at the University of Maryland’s journalism school. She is the co-founder of PressUncuffed.org, an organization promoting student research and journalism on press freedom issues and working to free imprisoned journalists abroad.

Knight Chair Dana Priest Honored with Zenger Award

Dana Priest headshot

Adapted from a University of Arizona press release.

TUCSON, Ariz. (Oct. 21) – Merrill College Knight Chair Dana Priest has been honored with the John Peter Zenger Award for Press Freedom by the University of Arizona.

Priest accepted the award Friday night during a gala event in Tucson.

A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Priest was honored for her work at the Washington Post exposing secret prisons and the poor treatment of wounded soldiers.

“Dana Priest epitomizes what journalism is all about – courage, truth-seeking, holding those in power accountable, and providing people the information they need to adequately self-govern,” said David Cuillier, director of the journalism school.

About the John Peter Zenger Award

Given by the University of Arizona since 1954, the award is named after John Peter and Anna Catherine Zenger and honors journalists who fight for freedom of the press and the people’s right to know.

Writing by email after being told of the award last May, Priest wrote, “Today is World Press Freedom Day, which makes me particularly grateful to be receiving this award from the UA School of Journalism.” She added, “The school’s award-winning work is an example of American journalism at its finest and a reminder of the power of investigative reporting to change lives.”

Past winners include Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Bill Moyers, Walter Cronkite and Associated Press foreign correspondent Kathy Gannon, who returned to reporting this year after being wounded in a 2014 attack in Afghanistan.

On the set of UA's PBS MetroWeek news and public affairs program with host Andrea Kelly at Univ of Arizona at Tucson. Priest was Speaking about Russian attempts to influence US elections and talking to journalism students.

On the set of MetroWeek – a PBS news and public affairs program – with host Andrea Kelly at Univ of Arizona at Tucson. Priest was speaking about Russian attempts to influence U.S. elections and talking to journalism students. Photo: Dana Priest.

About Dana Priest

Priest won a 2006 Pulitzer for uncovering secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and a 2008 Pulitzer for reporting on deplorable conditions for veterans at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington. She also is a John S. and James L. Knight Chair in Public Affairs Journalism at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

A three-time Pulitzer finalist, Priest is an alumna of UC Santa Cruz and is the author of two best-selling books: “The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America’s Military” (2003), and “Top Secret America: The Rise of the National Security State” (2010). The first book was a Pulitzer finalist and is still used in military academies. The second, developed into a “Frontline” documentary, covered the buildup in top-secret intelligence organizations in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

What Hacking Taught Journalists About Cybersecurity

Hannah Yasharoff '19 is a #fearlessjournalist at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

Hannah Yasharoff ’19

By Hannah Yasharoff ’19

Originally published on the William and Flora Hewett Foundation Website and reprinted with permission.

Hannah Yasharoff is a student at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. She participated in a cybersecurity workshop at the college that was supported by the Hewlett Foundation.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (Sept. 7) -With the help of a hacker, reporters and editors inside a computer lab at the University of Maryland this summer witnessed for themselves just how easy it is to break into an insecure website.

By deleting one backslash from a line of code and replacing it with two other characters, participants in a “Cybersecurity for Journalists” workshop were able to remove each other’s posts, see each other’s passwords and ultimately, upload a file to destroy a website altogether.

“Do not do this outside this classroom,” admonished Craig Stevenson, the lead instructor of the Cyber Exploitation Unit of Raytheon Solipsys.

The workshop, funded by the Hewlett Foundation’s Cyber Initiative and co-hosted by the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism and the American Society of Newspaper Editors, drew 35 journalists from around the country. It was designed to give journalists first-hand experience of critical – but often little understood – cybersecurity issues, as well as giving them a chance to develop sources and come up with story ideas.

Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, the conference organizer and the Knight Chair in Public Affairs Journalism at the school, spoke about the importance of developing cybersecurity reporting skills: “There are many, many obstacles set in your way… but the American people – even though they keep saying how much they hate you – the American people depend on you to tell them what is happening.”

The hacking exercise “took the mystery out of it,” said Kimberly Pierceall, a business reporter at the Virginian Pilot who says she writes often about cyberattacks but had never seen one from the inside. “It was nice to do it ourselves… It isn’t magic, it’s knowing some semblance of coding.”

Cybersecurity for journalists montage.

Michel Cukier, associate director of UMD’s undergraduate cybersecurity honors program, explained that when the internet was created, no one worried about security. Only decades later are governments, businesses, free speech proponents and policymakers trying to retrofit changes onto what has become an unparalleled global cyber infrastructure.

“It’s like you figured out how to design and build the first car and someone then asked you to turn the car into a boat,” he said. “And then turn the boat into a plane.”

Michael Hamilton, the former Chief Information Officer of Seattle and currently CEO of Critical Informatics, gave reporters a rapid-fire briefing on the vulnerability of local governments’ critical infrastructure, 85 percent of which, he said, is owned by industry.

To find sources, Hamilton suggested that reporters visit industry trade shows and hacking conferences, begin relationships with local FBI offices responsible for investigating larger breaches, and get to know leaders at cyber security firms, cyber fusion centers, and the cyber units at the state National Guard.

While understanding journalists’ fondness for the Freedom of Information Act, which allows reporters and the public to file requests to obtain public documents, he lamented what he called “public disclosure trolls,” individuals who file hundreds of FOIA requests as a hobby. These requests clog up resource-strained cities and state government bureaucracies.

Hamilton urged journalists to find a way to limit what he described as “nuisance filings.”

Stanford University cyber scholar Herb Lin walked through the many unanswered questions about cyber warfare. The first and most important question is attribution — who attacked whom?

But attribution is just the beginning, he said. What were the motives of the attacker? Was miscommunication a factor? What will be the intended and unintended consequences of responding militarily to a state-sponsored attack? Can the consequences be contained? What are the different levels of appropriate response?

Lin and others also lamented the lack of knowledge on the part of policymakers. “Technology leads policy by a lot,” he said. “At the federal level, there are maybe two people in Congress who understand this technology… law enforcement doesn’t really understand their role yet.”


Ellen Nakashima, one of the nation’s top cyber reporters and part of the Washington Post team that produced a Pulitzer Prize series based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, urged reporters to develop sources by cultivating cyber experts in academia who can go in and out of government. “Formers, formers, formers,” she said, referring to former government employees who are more free to speak to journalists after leaving government positions.

Both of them recommended attending hacker conferences such as Defcon, Black Hat, ShmooCon, and DerbyCon. Hackers, Lin said, love to brag and share their accomplishments.

Two presentations offered reporters examples for turning the complexities of cybersecurity into effective storytelling. Bruce Auster, a senior editor at NPR, walked participants through the production of a story dubbed “Project Eavesdrop,” meant to show listeners how much personal data their cell phones and computers send out without their knowledge.

NPR hacked into reporter Steven Henn’s home office, with his knowledge and permission. Even though Henn believed he had set up good security measures, basic skill-level hacking was able to access his Google search data, locations visited, email addresses and telephone numbers through always open, data-trolling apps.

“Your phone is a promiscuous device,” explained Auster. “We’re willing to make a deal with the devil for the convenience of the society that we’re living in.”

Also presenting was visual artist Hasan Elahi, who recently was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for his surveillance-themed art projects. The project began shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 when he was mistakenly added to the U.S. government’s watch list and spent six months being questioned by the FBI.

The FBI agent assigned to his case told him the best way to avoid questioning was to share his whereabouts with him. Elahi took the instruction literally and began an open-ended art project in which he revealed every aspect of his life to the agent, from the food he was in the process of eating, to bathroom toilets he visited.

Elahi photographed and uploaded plane tickets, road signs and everyday shopping trips. He has posted thousands upon thousands of images to his webpage for his agent and anyone else to see.

The result? “All my data is out there,” he said.

In the world we live in, cyber threats are more prominent than ever. The Internet has forced reporters to reinvent the way news is produced and shared. It’s also making them realize that understanding cybersecurity – a topic that still puzzles even top government officials – is increasingly important on a whole host of beats around the newsroom, from health care and business to national security and now, even domestic politics.

“I know some stuff just because I’m a computer nerd,” said Matt Dempsey, data reporter for the Houston Chronicle. “This cyber workshop has been a lot of information to take in, but it’s been helpful, really helpful.”

Knight Chair Dana Priest Talks Journalism and Cybersecurity

Merrill College Dean Lucy Dalglish gives opening remarks during the Cyber Security for Journalists dinner hosted by University of Maryland President Dr. Wallace Loh on campus.

Merrill College Dean Lucy Dalglish gives opening remarks during the Cyber Security for Journalists dinner hosted by University of Maryland President Dr. Wallace Loh.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Journalists have not always been equipped to cover the major cyber stories of the past few years. But a recent workshop held in Knight Hall at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism made a major effort to train journalists about cyber security and the issues surrounding it.

Co-sponsored by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), the two-day event covered such issues as cyber warfare, infrastructure vulnerabilities/law enforcement capabilities and examining the “digital exhaust” from electronic devices. There was even an “Intel Academy Workshop” where journalists in attendance could see how a cyber hack actually works so they could report more knowledgeably about them.

The workshop was funded thanks to a grant from the Hewlett Foundation’s Cyber Initiative.

See the full Cyber Security for Journalists workshop agenda (PDF).

Journalists attending the event, along with a wider group of invitees with an interest in cyber security issues, gathered at University House for dinner. Hosted by University of Maryland President, Dr. Wallace Loh, the group was welcomed by Merrill College Dean Lucy Dalglish, who introduced Knight Chair Dana Priest. Priest – a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter for the Washington Post – had just published an article about the Pentagon Papers in Columbia Journalism Review.

Her brief remarks – reprinted with permission here – began with a discussion of the 25th anniversary of the leaking of the Pentagon Papers and then moved forward to show that event’s relevance to the cyber issues of today.

Dana Priest headshot

Knight Chair Dana Priest.

I’d like to take you back 25 years, to the leaking of the Pentagon Papers. It happens to be the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prizes and I was asked to write  a piece about that for the Columbia Journalism Review so they are on my mind—but they do relate to today. Just wait.

The Pentagon Papers were a study conducted by the Pentagon of the Vietnam war, and leaked first to the New York Times by Daniel Ellsberg. They teach about the absolute futility of war when it is not paired with strong, forceful political solutions. It is a lesson we have been relearning, or at least reliving, for the past 15 years.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Pentagon Papers case, in favor of the New York Times and in opposition to the government’s request to be able to censors of the news—to prior censorship–enshrined a uniquely American freedom for a uniquely American media. We, the media, would not be subject to prior censorship, like most of our colleagues overseas, including the British and French.

Ellsberg, the leaker, was reviled by many at the time, but his act was seminal for American journalism and, more importantly, to Americans’ expectation–so taken for granted these days–that we will tell them what our government is doing.

Fast forward to the 21st century, a decade and a half after another war that hasn’t ended yet, and along comes Edward Snowden.

What Snowden gave to us, regardless of what you think of his methods or motives, what he revealed, what he showed us, was the vast intrusion by the government into the cyber universe and into, astonishingly, the lives of US citizens.

Not only that, but as President Obama’s own internal review panel on the Snowden leaks found, these were intrusions that were not at all necessary to detecting and defeating terrorists, which was their stated aim.

My question to all of you journalists is: why hadn’t we been able to ferret this out when it was happening? Ellen Nakashima here came closest, but I remember her fights with editors to get her stories on the front page where they belonged.

The answer is simple: we didn’t have the knowledge and sources to make it possible. We still are far behind. And that’s why today was so important.

I’m not going to break any new ground here—I can barely get my LinkedIn working correctly—but you are. And your news organizations are. This workshop was put together exclusively to help you do that.

Thank you Lucy and Teri (Hayt – ASNE) for co-hosting. Thanks you Wallace Loh, Mary Ann Rankin, Michel Cuckier, for coming here to ponder these things with us and with the students, the next generation of journalists.

For you journalists, hopefully you’ve sharpened some of your tools. You will need them. No one is going to volunteer to open up the cyber books. There are many many obstacles set in your way. But I am confident, and the American people– even though they keep saying how much they hate you – the American people depend on YOU to tell them what is happening.


Merrill College, ASNE Sponsor Cybersecurity Workshop

Cyber Security Workshop Agenda

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The Philip Merrill College of Journalism will host an ASNE Cybersecurity Workshop June 3-4 in Knight Hall. The workshop is a one-of-its-kind event designed to help journalists cover cybersecurity issues in the most practical way.

The brainchild of Knight Chair in Public Affairs Journalism Dana Priest, the workshop is made possible by the Hewlett Foundation’s Cyber Initiative.

Register today and receive a $300 travel, hotel and transportation reimbursement. Slots limited by hands-on computer training.

Here’s What You’ll Learn:

*Learn how cyber thieves steal the government’s secrets and yours too.

*Learn to report on cyber warfare, intrusions into banking, credit card, electricity companies

*Discover how ill-prepared police are to catch cyber stalkers

*See your digital exhaust and figure out how to explain it to readers/listeners/viewers

Designed to help journalists better understand, investigate, and explain cyber issues. We are behind the curve in this field of reporting.



Mark Lowenthal, former senior CIA officer and president of the Intelligence & Security Academy, which trains business and government executives in the mechanics and history of cyber hacking and exploitation

Ellen Nakashima, award-winning Washington Post cyber intel reporter, shares her experiences unearthing the dark world of cyber warfare and describes the state of cyber journalism today.

Ron Gula, former NSA penetration expert, CEO of Tenable Network Security and big thinker, talks industry warfare and sabotage, and how to penetrate this sensitive story.

Siobhan Gorman, former award-winning NSA reporter, Wall Street Journal, leads a story-brainstorming session.

Herb Lin, Stanford University cyber warfare expert dissects a recent attack and talks potential routes into these most difficult stories.

Michael Hamilton, former information security chief, city of Seattle, and head of Critical Informatics, Inc., explains the lack of state and local infrastructure defenses and law enforcement’s inability to stop cyber criminals.

Bruce Auster, NPR senior editor, explains how to map your digital exhaust.

Hasan Ehali, acclaimed artist and UMD scholar, on his artistic reaction to being questioned by the FBI as a suspected terrorist.

Ashley Messenger, NPR associate general counsel, on the challenges and best approaches to obtaining digital government records.

Patrick O’Shea, UMD.’s director of research, builds a philosophical framework for understanding our cyber world.

Lucy Dalglish, Dean, Merrill School of Journalism and nationally-recognized media rights lawyer, moderates.

Dana Priest, Knight Chair and award-winning Washington Post reporter, curated the workshop and moderates.

Co-sponsored by Philip Merrill College of Journalism and the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Place: Knight Hall, Phillip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park Campus.

Click here for directions

The deadline to make hotel reservations at the College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center (3501 University Blvd. E., Hyattsville, MD 20783) has expired, but there are still some rooms available at the same discounted rate of $119/night for single and $139/night for double. To book your room, please call Globetrotter Travel at 301-570-0800 or 800-322-7032 and ask for the cybersecurity block of rooms under the Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Any cancellations must be made through the travel agency.

The Cybersecurity Workshop is funded by the Hewlett Foundation’s Cyber Initiative whose goal is to “help develop a cybersecurity field capable of developing thoughtful, long-term solutions to the whole range of complex technical and public policy problems posed by the Internet.”