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Opening Arguments

Leaks and leakers

I've been trying to decide what I think in general about government leakers. As a journalist, I'm probably supposed to admire them on principle, since they're in the anti-secret business and that's the core function of my profession. But that doesn't really work for me. In fact, I'd be more inclined to dislike the lot of them as the kind of untrustworthy people I wouldn't want hanging around my own life.

Judging them by motive doesn't do it, either. Deep Trroat was moved by the baseset of motives -- seeking payback for what he thought was unfair treatment by fellow FBI bureaucrats. But what he revealed was important stuff the American people needed to know.

I guess I'm left judging them by the effects their leaks have. What Bradley Manning fed to Wikeleaks did damage to national security and probably endangered American lives, and since he was a soldier when he did it, I'd probably throw him in the traitor pile. But Edward Snowden, newly self-revealed as the whistleblower of the NSA's bad surveillance habits, alerted us to the invasions of our privacy. He has sparked a needed moral and ethical debate over how much we're willing to give up for security's sake.

Of course, he could have done it a different way:

The NSA may well be acting in a malicious manner, or it might be on the side of the angels, or anywhere in between.  Either way, the leak of the materials to the press is a major crime, and the US has a just cause to arrest and try Snowden for any number of felonies related to them. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the “debate” Obama now conveniently wants on national security and the surveillance state.  Of course we should.  But that debate should have been informed through channels that protected those secrets unless no other possibility existed. 

I don't have any problem with the authorities seeking to prosecute him. Those who are willing to break the law because they think they serve a higher good have to go in willing to face the consequences of their actions. That doesn't mean I can't appreciate him for telling me something I needed to know. I'm not sure what, if any, damage was done by revealing all that snooping. I suspect anybody plotting harm against us was already assuming they would be spied on, so I don't know  how much more careful they will be now.