sure we can unpack it.
I wasn't told no you can't pursue this research route. I was strongly advised by my thesis advisor, who was previously employed by the Intel Community, that I not try and dig into networks of potential terrorist activity in order to prevent endangering my clearance. it would be really hard to use any system to access the kinds of sources I wanted (mostly blogs and social media) without attracting suspicion from my govt, a host country govt, or my network providers.
on top of that, it was really hard to prove the hypothesis I wanted to pursue. there's no possible way to confirm that a blog post 1. empirically led to or caused a terror act 2. even resulted in a terror act 3. or that the poster is who they say they were. so it wasn't worth risking my clearance for a dubious hypothesis, especially since I only had a semester to write said thesis.
as for journalism, there's obviously more leeway than for natsec employees. it would be pretty easy to point at the journalism or scholarship that resulted from the interaction. it's harder to prove you didn't have alternative motives if you have access to natsec info that could be valuable.