Wikileaks Afghan War Document Leak Again Raises Questions: Treason Or Whistleblowing?
from the depends-on-who-you-ask dept
A few weeks back, as part of our discussion on the arrest of Bradley Manning for handing over classified documents to Wikileaks, we questioned where to draw the line between “whistleblowing” and “criminal” leaking of military secrets. At the time, we compared the situation to Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. With the the new leak of nearly 100,000 documents about the war in Afghanistan, that same question is getting a lot more attention.
Ellsberg says that the leak is no different than the Pentagon Papers. Both involved massive leaks that showed a government was not being entirely forthright with the public about the status of a war. Others in that article suggest there are some key differences, in the lack of any smoking gun of direct lying by the government (in the latest case, it was more about just not telling the full truth), as well as the scattershot nature of the content. But that’s no matter to some grandstanding politicians, like Rep. Pete King who were quick to call the leak treasonous and demand prosecution of those involved (he seems to imply that he believes Manning leaked these documents, though no one has said that conclusively yet).
Of course, that was the strategy taken by the Nixon White House in response to the Pentagon Papers — to attack the messenger. It looks like the Obama White House is taking a rather different response. While worrying about how the leaks could “jeopardize” people or operations on the ground, the White House is actually trying to turn the few revelations into an advantage, by claiming that the information revealed support the strategy the military has taken under his watch. Whether that’s true or not, this actually does seem like the type of response that could diffuse the criticism much faster than simply screaming “traitor!”
Of course, some of the revelations, such as the news that the US was paying Afghani press people to run positive stories about the US don’t look good at all, no matter how you spin them.
On the whole, it seems like the debate about whether this is “whistleblowing” or “traitorous” behavior misses the point. The fact is, information like this is going to get out — probably at an increasing rate. The real question is how does the government and the military learn to function in a society where information is a lot more open and free.