Both the Washington Post and New York Times reported on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees' recent outrage at the volume of "authorized, intentional leaks" of classified sources and methods from the Obama administration.
I have a particular interest in this issue as I represent half-a-dozen whistleblowers either being criminally prosecuted, investigated, or threatened with prosecution for making whistleblowing disclosures exposing government waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement, illegalities, or a danger to health and public safety.
Both Democrats and Republicans on the Intelligence Committees are rightfully ticked off about the disparate treatment for so-called "leaks," especially considering the Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the heavy-handed Espionage Act than all past presidents combined. Using the criminal justice system to target whistleblowers is damaging enough, but doing so while simultaneously "leaking" classified information that provides a political benefit is brazen hypocrisy.
Senator John McCain wrote on the Obama administration's hypocrisy:
“The fact that this administration would aggressively pursue leaks perpetrated by a 22-year-old Army private in the Wikileaks matter and former CIA employees in other leaks cases but apparently sanction leaks made by senior administration officials for political purposes is simply unacceptable,” Sen. McCain said.
The Intelligence Committees promised legislation to stop the flow of leaks:
Citing “the accelerating pace of such disclosures,” the two committees said in a joint statement that they planned to “act immediately” by bolstering legal restrictions and putting new pressure on the Obama administration to stanch the flow of secrets.
The Intelligence Committees should be sure to distinguish between whistleblowing disclosures, which do a public service, and the authorized, intentional "leaks" of classified information for political gain. Congress should focus any efforts to curb disclosures on the leaks which serve a political interest, rather than on whistleblowing in the public interest.
I articulated the distinction between leaking and whistleblowing years ago:
Unfortunately, the terms "leaking" and "whistle-blowing" are often used synonymously to describe the public disclosure of information that is otherwise secret. Both acts have the effect of damaging the subject of the revelation. But leaking is quite different from blowing the whistle. The difference turns on the substance of the information disclosed. The Whistleblower Protection Act protects the disclosure of information that a government employee reasonably believes evidences fraud, waste, abuse or a danger to public health or safety.
Additionally, the Obama's administration's "leak" policies demonstrate an undemocratic desire to control the flow of information to the public - not for the purpose of protecting intelligence sources and methods - but in order to protect or benefit the officials currently in power.
The New York Times analyzed the "authorized" leaks on cyberattacks and drones strikes, which some members of the Intelligence Committees asserted were timed to give the most political benefit to the Obama administration:
Mr. Aftergood said drones and cyberattacks were “extreme examples of programs that are widely known and yet officially classified.” That, he said, has prevented informed public discussion of some critical questions. . . . .
The administration’s inconsistency, however, has been particularly evident on the drone program. Officials routinely give reporters limited information on strikes, usually on the condition of anonymity. Mr. Obama spoke explicitly about the strikes in Pakistan in an online appearance in January, arguing that they were precisely aimed at Al Qaeda.
Yet the drone attacks in Pakistan are part of a C.I.A. covert action program designed to be “deniable” by American leaders; by law they are in the most carefully protected category of secrets that the government keeps. In court, the administration has taken the position that it can neither confirm nor deny the existence of such operations.
“There’s something wrong with aggressive leaking and winking and nodding about the drone program, but saying in response to Freedom of Information requests that they can’t comment because the program is covert,” Mr. [Jack] Goldsmith [a Harvard law professor and Bush administration Justice Department official who writes about national security and the press] said.
Using these "authorized leaks" from "anonymous administration officials" to release pro-government information, while denying the existence of programs in court (and actively fighting court oversight of Executive action) does a disservice to the classification system, which is supposed to be used to protect intelligence sources and methods, the American public, which is entitled to know its government's actions, and our democracy, which depends upon an informed electorate.
While making sure that any pro-administration talking points make it onto the front page, the Obama administration has aggressively prosecuted whistleblowers like Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou, who exposed government illegalities like warrantless domestic surveillance and torture.
Stifling dissent while promoting propaganda is not transparency. Transparency is not limited to pro-government information. Real transparency means letting the public see their government's triumphs as well as its mistakes, so the public can make an informed decision based upon complete and accurate information.
Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.