Politicians Grandstand About Leaks, But The Rest Of Us See The Prosecution Of Whistleblowers

from the priorities,-people dept

Early last week, we wrote about the oddity of how the White House didn’t seem to much mind “leaks” that made the President look good in terms of being “tough” on our enemies, such as in the NY Times story confirming that the US was behind the Stuxnet malware, and that the President himself was very familiar with the program. This came at the same time as the White House continuing to vindictively prosecute people responsible for even very minor leaks, such as the Thomas Drake affair, in which some whistleblowing about out-of-control spending at the NSA tuned into a malicious prosecution.

Soon after that story came out, the issue of “good leaks” and “bad leaks” became a huge political football, as it gave the President’s opponents an angle to attack him for leaking classified info. The President himself had to shoot back and insist that there were no such leaks happening from the White House — which is clearly not true. Some of the information could have only come from administration officials.

And, of course, it wasn’t just limited to Stuxnet, but other “leaks” of classified info, such as stories around the unmanned drone strike program, which lots of people have reported on, but which is still “classified.” Of course, we’ve now seen grandstanding on both sides of the aisle decrying these leaks — but not the actions that were exposed by them!

Instead, they all seem to be upset about the leaks themselves, rather than the fact that these questionable activities were secret in the first place. As John Cook recently wrote, these kinds of “leaks” are important because they let us know what our government is doing in our name. That’s why these aren’t leaks, so much as whistleblowing. And that’s an important distinction. That’s doubly true as we see to what ridiculous lengths the very same administration goes to in order to attack anyone who reveals information that makes it look bad.

One person’s leak is another person’s whistleblowing. To treat them all as “leaks” that must be punished (often severely) creates a significant chilling effect on reporting on key issues — and (worse) gives the government a bubble in which it gets to abuse its power. Rather than condemning all these “leaks,” we should be trying to (a) celebrate those who blew the whistle and (b) understand the details behind why such things were secret in the first place.

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Comments on “Politicians Grandstand About Leaks, But The Rest Of Us See The Prosecution Of Whistleblowers”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Having been on many sides of the government – elected, employed, and joe-citizen – the situation you are describing is really one of struggling with transparency.

Not everything the government does can be done openly and with the knowledge of every citizen.

Of course, in the present political climate, this struggling, which is something every administration at every level of government (fed, state, local) deals with, becomes fodder for the sensationalists on all sides. It also fuels the conspiratorialists because if the government isn’t telling us the whole truth about issue X, it must be covering something up about issue Y and Z and so forth.

Anonymous Coward says:


It’s a funny world we live in isn’t it? Where people can be effectively tyrannised by their own country as they have no other choice and can’t move. But no one speaks of this. It’s like HAVING to work for the same company your entire life. I say countries like companies should compete for citizens. Perhaps then folks could vote not only with their ballots, but with their feet as well. That is a world I’d like to live in as this one only presents the illusion of freedom.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Of course, we’ve now seen grandstanding on both sides of the aisle decrying these leaks — but not the actions that were exposed by them!”

That’s because the Democrats don’t want to undermine the actions of their guy, and the Republicans don’t want to object to anything that they may well be doing next year, or may have done 4 years ago.

And I for one have no problem with Stuxnet, except that it was exposed. Do we really want Iran to get the bomb?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:


“Do we really want Iran to get the bomb?”
Has this actually ever been vetted as possible by someone not employed by the US?
Cause well we “MIGHT” have an issue with our track record on gathering intel… look at all the WMD’s we found that one time we said they had them.

I have a problem with Stuxnet because it was an opening salvo in a game we are woefully unprepared to play. Now Cyberterrorism & Cyberwar are the big new watch words where money will be spent, rather than I dunno trying to fix the country.

We are so concerned about what we THINK they might do, that we steadfastly refuse to consider we could possibly be wrong.
We still have an embargo on Cuba, because of some issue a long time ago, but people are still sure that Cuba is just waiting to attack… seriously.

Life is easier for politicians when they can keep us focused on “the other” who is responsible for all of the ills that plague us, rather than looking at the sins the politicians are committing.
And when we finally catch on to those sins, we are told it was for our own good that we violated the word, spirit, letter of the law to stop “the others”… while ignoring they are just as bad if not worse than “the others” they decry.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:


people only say aboot and eh in Ontario. The rest of us are almost pristine in our use of English. Even if here in BC we also use words like “skookum” and “chuck” which is perfectly good BC English.

We have lineups to get in too, so you’d have to take our place in line. Sadly, reading Techdirt doesn’t get you extra points with Immigration. 😉

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

I don’t know any government that likes leaks. Well, except for those it arranges itself which happens a lot more often than most people think.

Some are trial balloons sent up to see what the public reaction would be. Some, like the Pentagon Papers a government would much rather see the leaker vanish than even behind bars where the media could get to him/her for interviews and lovely stuff like that.

Questions like “do you want Iran to get The Bomb” deflect a good look at the issue kept secret by invoking the “us vs them” response in people which is amazingly effective in the short term. What it ignores, in this case, is that Iran has the know how to build one. It’s just missing some parts, which it is working on. If the get close it will trigger an open secret which is that Israel will bomb the snot out of the reactor that made the stuff. At which stage the Iranians will have moved the stuff they made somewhere else.

Not all leaks are on that level. The good ship TPP seems to be getting leaky, which isn’t all that uncommon with behind closed door trade negotiations where one or more parties to it feel they’re being forced into something they don’t want to do or are against the best interests of their country as they see it. ACTA sprung similar leaks. The source tends to be high up the pecking order of one or more participants.

As someone has already said secrets of this kind exits to make it easier to do things “for our own good” that we may have a negative reaction to in our “ignorance” which might scuttle all or some of the deal being worked out.

Security is often cited as the reason for something being kept secret. Stuxnet is a prime example. Cybersecurity becomes a big issue not because America was attacked but because supposedly America had a hand in attacking someone else. Different agencies line up to plead for money because the baddies of the day just might break into someone’s server somewhere and learn something. After all if “we” can do it to someone else “they” can do it to us. And it’s important that we understand it’s for our own good.

Rather in the way that it’s important to understand that continuing the approximately 60 year old trade embargo on Cuba put on at the height of the Cold War just before or during a period where Moscow and Washington decided it would be “fun” to play nuclear brinksmanship with the world.

It’s continued on “for our own good” as Cuba somehow might pose a threat to the United States. It’s always struck me that it ended up posing much more of a propaganda threat because of that isolation than if the embargo had never taken place.

More often than not government isn’t protecting anything in the security realm. It’s protecting itself from what they know will be a critical public. When it leaks government doesn’t seem capable of understanding the reaction is part outrage and part WTF did they do this for we’d figured it out already.

It’s like anyone who does things for “our own good”, it’s done for their good OR to protect them from looking like Grade A Prime idiots.

Chargone (profile) says:


… i’d think the generally psychotic behavior on the part of Iran’s leadership would pretty much eliminate the relevance of ‘likelihood’ of them getting it in the face of how disastrous it actually happening would be. … well, depending on the nature and consequences of preventative methods employed.

sorta like how NZ doesn’t have nuclear power plants, and most of it’s citizens don’t want them: the odds of them going wrong are very low. almost to the point of irrelevancy (though only almost) if built correctly. however, the level of disaster if they do is unacceptably catastrophic.

none of which changes the whole whistle-blowing issue, of course, but the whole ‘iran with nukes’ thing Is a worrying thing.

sometimes, considering the possibility of being wrong does not eliminate the need for insurance…

which doesn’t change your points about the whole ‘cyber terrorism’ thing, or cuba, or much of anything else, really… just my take on your first paragraph, or something.

Arjan says:

The correct response (in order of importance) to leaks should be:
1. We shouldn’t have done that!
2. We should review our security procedures!
3. Blame the messenger!
4. Punish the whistleblower for making us feel uncomfortable!

Since 1. and 2. require introspection and admittance of wrongdoing, *NO SINGLE POLITICIAN* (or business for that matter) will act on these. This leaves 3. and 4. as the only logical responses to any leak…

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:


Iran might be run by a nutter, but the better question is can they actually do what he threatens? Or is the leverage of claiming nukes a better bargaining chip for a longer game, and keeping yourself relevant.

So many of the problems we keep seeing with whistleblowers and the issues they are bringing up are systems put into place that become sacred cows that we have to continue to pursue at the expense of the law, rights, common sense.

If you start a fight with a troll online, both sides keep going. Making more and more outlandish remarks, each having to prove the otherside wrong, even if it no longer has anything to do with the original issue any longer.
If you pick a fight with 4chan you damn well make sure you covered up anything leading to you before making your move.
You don’t launch a massive cyberattack when your side isn’t ready to get slapped back harder.

laura A. Martinez says:

Justice for Ray Martinez

https: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Justice-For-Ray-Martinez/150028745042974
FEDERAL Cover-up Negligence
I am Laura Martinez, advocate for human rights since my husband Ray (Army, retired Staff SGT.) died on August 1, 2009 from the federal gross work negligence in Laredo, Texas. He was a Safety Investigator with the (FMCSA) Federal Motors Carriers Safety Administration. Ray requested safety equipment for him his co-workers his but employer, Pecina Santos, claimed the safety suit was too expensive. Ray had to photograph toxic containers & label them. I notified OSHA authorities with Ray’s death testimony about Ray’s drastic violent death! Ray died with- in (one month) with severed scarred damaged lungs. OSHA, investigators only penalize the agency with a ridiculous $ 7,000 senseless penalty. OSHA, send me their senseless explanation that the employer was NOT aware of the TOXIC danger & that I did not had evidence to proof that Ray had lost his life from it. The medical examiner did NOT follow the autopsy I had requested. The media NEVER published the $7,000 penalty. This is a sinister cover-up for the horrible mess. THE FEDERAL AGENCY BROKE THEIR OWN SAFETY LAW FOR MORE THAN 8 YEARS & IT IS AN EMBARRASSMENT TO SOCIETY. GROSS NEGLIGENCE IS A CRIME, NOT AN EXCUSE. This is an injustice to any citizen & to an American soldier. The agency violated human rights! My attorney, Chris Cagle from Austin, Texas explained the federal agency protects from any WRONGFUL DEATH! Ray?s death is PREMEDITATED DEATH! WHERE IS JUSTICE FOR ALL? Your loved one could be their NEXT victim. (THIS IS FEDERAL ABUSE POWER OVER CITIZENS!) Where is the respect & human dignity? My daughter, Emily, was only 6 years old when she saw her dad suffering & gasping for oxygen before his death. My children were denied COMPENSATION, RESPECT & JUSTICE! Please citizens unite & help defend human rights! The federal agencies are giant corporations but at the end God?s justice will prevail!
Sincerely, Laura A. Martinez & family

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