Secrecy News

Leakers May Be Worse Than Spies, Gov’t Says

One might presume that foreign spies do more damage to national security than those who leak classified information to the press. But the opposite could be true, government attorneys told a court this week, because the leaked information is circulated more widely.

“While spies typically pass classified national defense information to a specific foreign government, leakers, through the internet, distribute such information without authorization to the entire world,” the Justice Department attorneys wrote. “Such broad distribution of unauthorized disclosures may actually amplify the potential damage to the national security in that every country gains access to the compromised intelligence,” they argued.

They wrote in opposition to a motion filed by accused leaker Daniel Everette Hale, who had moved for dismissal on First Amendment grounds of the Indictment against him.

The argument that leakers may be worse than spies is not new. It was previously advanced by the government in 2011 in the prosecution of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, as reported at the time in Politico.

While Hale’s argument is obviously self-serving, the case for dismissal of the charges against him is nevertheless substantial, said the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The increased number of such prosecutions of sources who leak classified information to the press is adversely affecting the larger public interest, the organization argued in an amicus brief filed in support of the defendant.

“This case must be considered in the context of a dramatic uptick in the prosecution of journalistic sources since 2009, an increase in the severity of punishment, and a heightened danger of selective enforcement against lower-ranking disclosers,” their brief said.

“Not only are there far more cases today than 10 years ago, one can discern two trends in these cases: punishments that continue to increase in severity and the possibility of selective prosecutions against more vulnerable, lower-level disclosers.”

“Journalistic source prosecutions directly chill newsgathering by dissuading sources from coming forward with newsworthy information in the public interest.”

Collectively, these factors alter the context in which prior leak cases were adjudicated, the Reporters Committee argued. Current circumstances and the specifics of this case justify dismissal, the amicus brief said.

One thought on “Leakers May Be Worse Than Spies, Gov’t Says

  1. The government’s argument is a preposterous one to make after everything we’ve learned about what it has done (including the supposedly sacrosanct “intelligence community”) under cover of secrecy and then attempted to justify in the name of “national security”: secret wars, torture, unlawful mass surveillance, drone assassinations of U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike without charge or trial, indefinite imprisonment of anyone anywhere whom the government claims is guilty of terrorism, planning behind the backs of the public for WWIII (one can reasonably suspect), and so on.

    The claim that information conveyed to the public outside of “proper channels”, simply because it is classified, is per se damaging to national security (the worst of buzz phrases) is the dullest of blunt instruments at this late hour and is only ever advanced by self-serving apparatchiks of centralized power who are seeking to monopolize control of information which the public is entitled to know. It is only worthy of contempt. The good news is that the argument will, increasingly over time, redound to its proponents’ own discredit as an automatic, unconscious response of any reasonably informed listener, not warranting a serious reply.

    It is long past time to overhaul the classification system along the lines of Executive Order 13526 (12/29/09), Section 1.7 of which acknowledges the concept of an illegal secret which no government is entitled to keep. This concept needs to be developed into new felonies that would provide indeed for prison time for abusing the classification power in the ways that we have been forced to observe it being abused for the past 20 years, to say nothing of what came before. If this is not done, and if it does not become more than a dead letter, then official secrets in the U.S. (or anywhere else, for that matter) will continue to have zero credibility.

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