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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Somewhat Missing The Point: Example Infinity

And Also: Invasion of the Bee Girls is a fun (and pretty explicit) "B" film from the 1970s that was well worth the Netflix viewing.  It had a surprisingly powerful almost rape though Rabid had a more consistent look at societal reaction to some disaster.

Today, the Obama administration is aggressively pursuing leakers. Bradley E. Manning, an Army private, has been imprisoned since May 2010 on suspicion of having passed classified data to the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks. Thomas A. Drake, a former official at the National Security Agency, pleaded guilty Friday to a misdemeanor of misusing the agency’s computer system by providing information to a newspaper reporter. 
The tension between protecting true national security secrets and ensuring the public’s “right to know” about abuses of authority is not new. Indeed, the nation’s founders faced this very issue.
Such began an op-ed, "The Whistle-Blowers of 1777."  The whistleblowers there petitioned Congress concerning a powerful military official that they said "treated prisoners in the most inhuman and barbarous manner,” which has topical relevance.  They were sued for libel.  The suit failed and Congress eventually passed a law setting forth:
That it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or any other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.
They also paid the legal fees and released the relevant records for public view. Later whistleblower protections were of a similar variety (putting aside perhaps the legal fees, though some result in some fiscal reward), including protecting against retaliation. Such things are to be honored as is special care to not use limited prosecutorial resources to deal with whistleblowers as a general matter.  There is no "zero tolerance" rule here, especially given semi-official leaks that go on all the time. 

But, Manning did not give the information to some "proper authority."  Drake did not.  And so on. They gave it to the press. The press is not what the law had in mind. Andrew Breitbart releasing secret material to FOX News is not the issue at hand.  It isn't even the Pentagon Papers, the famous Supreme Court ruling opposing use of inherent power to convict, not total security.  At most, only two or three votes for that was available.  The principle put forth here is a moral one, mixed with a question of discretion.

The example doesn't fit the principle in any real sense.  These people weren't arrested for releasing stuff to Congress; no libel suit was provided to target them.  Are we going to give NSA officials carte blanche, when they on their own so determine, to release classified material to the media (or blog?) of their choice?  The same media those who rail against Obama et. al. (out of some fictional assumption he was some civil libertarian, he of the voting for FISA breaking telecom immunity fame) don't trust to throw a stick at half the time?

Anyway, bottom line, the example is a leap. If the spirit of the op-ed is valid,* the example is not. Going through channels, having a duty to do so, is not the issue with Manning et. al.


* The last sentence is true enough:
Instead of ignoring and intimidating whistle-blowers, Congress and the executive branch would do well to follow the example of the Continental Congress, by supporting and shielding them.
Whistleblowers, in private and public institutions, are protected, though probably not enough.  But, giving carte blanche to those who don't go through official channels is a tad bit more complicated.