Why I Don’t Leak Secrets
By J.E. McCollough
One should never trust a government, any government; its nature is to seek first to preserve itself and increase its power. However, for a free society to hope to preserve its freedom, the government MUST be able to trust the citizens within its own ranks or else its self-preservation instincts will be turned on its people and itself.
Julian Assange of Wikileaks and guys like him want our government to turn on itself and the American people, he’s stated as much in his manifesto. He contends that if a government (or “conspiracy,” as he calls it) is caused to fight within itself it will eventually become so ineffective it will collapse. Seeing as how Assange’s method of disrupting the U.S. Government is to publish classified U.S. information it’s pretty clear he wants the US to collapse.
And guys like Edward Snowden are helping him.
Truth-tellers? Whistle-blowers? Traitors? I don’t think all those terms are necessarily mutually exclusive. I’m not going to say if Snowden’s motivations were noble, misguided or malicious. What I will say is that, whatever his motivations, some of the information he initially published could be considered ‘whistle blowing,’ but far more falls clearly into the realm of information that damages the US national security interest. Should he have revealed the NSA was keeping call logs on US citizens? Perhaps, perhaps not. Should he have revealed US espionage efforts against our rivals and our enemies? Absolutely not. The former action may be whistle blowing, the latter is certainly treason.
Honestly, I don’t think the controversy over Snowden, and perhaps to a lesser extent Manning, will be settled in public discourse whatever the courts decide. What makes the discussion even more contentious is that their actions don’t fall neatly into conservative or progressive ideologies. Americans concerned about government overreach on the left, right and middle may find themselves disagreeing with ideological compatriots who are more concerned with protecting their kids than what is really not much more than the government setting up CCTV cameras in Time Square.
But with all the arguing over whether or not what Snowden and Manning did was whistle blowing or treason, I think a lot of people are missing what’s really important, that is, how does our government react as it begins to realize it is no longer able to entrust even highly vetted citizens with sensitive information? Does our government fall into the Assange trap?
I have lived the U.S. Intelligence Community for over sixteen years, both in the Marine Corps and as a civilian. I’ve spent most of my adult life with a security clearance.
Obtaining a security clearance is no simple matter. You fill out extensive questionnaires about your personal history, friends, travel, family, associations with foreigners. Your friends and family are interviewed to determine your trustworthiness. You are grilled for hours by investigators and if there are discrepancies between what you say and what you’ve written or what your friends and family say, you will likely be denied a clearance. It is expensive and time-consuming for the government, but worth it to be sure that at the end of the process the government can trust you with classified information.
But now, it can’t. Not really. Yes, there are thousands of dedicated, loyal intelligence professionals working to keep Americans safe, but when you get burned this badly it’s hard to ever trust anyone again.
Now, the government can’t be entirely sure of its most trusted citizens and to me that is frightening. I believe the result will almost certainly be an increase in ‘compartmentalization’ of intelligence. Each program, SIGINT, HUMINT or otherwise, and the resulting intelligence will be restricted to smaller and smaller groups of highly vetted individuals. This will certainly help prevent leaks, but it is also a gradual return to pre-9/11 intelligence practices in the US Intelligence Community, where one agency’s information is only selectively and rarely shared with other agencies. We called it ‘stove-piping,’ the left hand not talking to the right, not ‘connecting the dots,’ and the practice was identified in the 9/11 Commission’s report as one of the reasons we were vulnerable that September morning.
The consequences of the Manning and Snowden leaks, then, will be to encourage the U.S. government to become more paranoid and insular, resulting in a weakening of America’s defenses.
Perhaps not a complete collapse, which is what Julian Assange wants, but certainly a more vulnerable nation.
Was weakening the United States the goal of Manning and Snowden? Not according to their public statements, they each claim a crisis of conscience. That their moral outrage forced their hands.
In the public statement explaining the reasoning for releasing classified information to the world Manning decries the inhumanity of war, not any illegal act she discovered in the mountain of intelligence documents she released.
Snowden said, “”I’m no different from anybody else. I don’t have special skills. I’m just another guy who sits there day to day in the office, watches what’s happening and goes, ‘This is something that’s not our place to decide, the public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.’”
Except… he eventually decided it WAS his place to decide what was right and wrong, and so he released the information he’d stolen.
There may be an underlying societal explanation for Snowden’s and Manning’s actions, beyond their claimed moral outrage. Perhaps they’re neither whistle blowers nor traitors, but the alternative could be even more dangerous for the US government and the future of our free society.
Noted author Charlie Stross wrote an excellent article earlier this year discussing the generational break that has occurred in America. He states, “In the 21st century, the NSA (and other espionage agencies) face a big system-wide problem that I haven’t seen anybody talking about. The problem is sociological, and it’s going to get worse.”
Stross describes the problem as one of employment expectations of the younger generations. Stross contends, simply put, that they have no expectation they’ll work for the same employer for the long-term, therefore they have no loyalty to any employer. I believe this mentality translates to young federal employees, including military service members like Manning and Snowden, who find themselves with no particular loyalty to their government employer.
I agree with Stross, but I think the generational break goes deeper than just changing employment expectations. Manning and Snowden represent Generations X and Y, citizens raised with few loyalties to anyone aside from themselves. They are sincere in their conscience and confident in the righteousness of their judgments, despite their lack of experience or knowledge, and therefore have no compunction against betraying their oaths to the Constitution. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
If Stross is correct, the U.S. government is now facing a future of generations filled with Mannings and Snowdens, citizens with no loyalty to anything but the
whims of their own consciences. This possibility means there will be fewer and fewer citizens it can trust to safeguard the rest of the American people.
So here it is.
I don’t leak secrets, first, because I’m loyal to my oaths. Second, I don’t want to send our country to a pre-9/11 intelligence system, unprepared for attacks. Lastly, I know that the government is a dangerous beast, and I see no reason to make a dangerous animal more paranoid than it already is. I don’t leak secrets because I don’t trust the government not to overreact to damaging leaks, potentially resulting in worse offenses than ever were leaked or, in a worst-case scenario, completely implode like Assange and his cohorts would wish.
My advice to potential leakers is simple: work to change the system from within and vote your conscience, elect leaders who are willing to change the system. Or better yet, run for office yourself if you’re so convinced the system is flawed and change it yourself.
Opinions expressed are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of The Rhino Den or its parent company, Ranger Up.