Plugging Leaks

Washington Post Editorialist Gary Wasserman's piece in the yesterday is worth reading. A few choice lines:

"Persons who have unauthorized possession, who come into unauthorized possession of classified information, must abide by the law. That applies to academics, lawyers, journalists, professors, whatever."

-- Judge T.S. Ellis III

The judge was speaking last month after sentencing a former Pentagon desk officer for Iran to prison for sharing classified information too widely. It didn't seem to matter that Lawrence Franklin was a conservative former Air Force colonel who was using contacts outside of government to lobby for a harder line on Iran. In a week when an American soldier was given no more than a reprimand for smothering an Iraqi general to death, Franklin's 12 1/2 -year sentence was a reminder that this is an administration more horrified by leaks than torture.

Wasserman doesn't stop there, he calls the Administration out on intimidating civilians and squashing political debate, too.
Information is the lifeblood of policymaking. Expanding restrictions on information adds greatly to the power of the executive; criminalizing citizens' contact with that information adds even greater uncertainty. Any Washington power lunch touching on national security issues -- between Reporter A or Lobbyist B and Official C -- inevitably contains something that someone has classified. Who's to know what's legal? Are "classified" White House discussions about Hurricane Katrina to be treated the same as troop movements? Even if the information is classified, is the official authorized to disclose it? In a long conversation, where is the "clear line"? For some leaks Bob Woodward gets a bestseller; Steve Rosen may get jail.


For better or worse, the rules of this game have traditionally been enforced by the players. Reporters receiving national security leaks have shown them to officials for confirmation and comment. Advocates and experts who spread information meant only for their ears were cut off from further briefings. This rough-and-ready marketplace lasted throughout the Cold War. Now a more fearful leadership finds such practices intolerable.

One argument for why autocratic regimes such as pre-World War II Germany and Japan have engaged in risky foreign adventures is that these narrow elites are not subject to the kind of outside review by knowledgeable people that exists in democracies. The run-up to the Iraq war has raised questions about whether America's marketplace of ideas in foreign policy is still viable. Did the Bush administration's success in gaining public approval for its invasion of Iraq have something to do with its ability to control secret information in a way that muted doubts about inflated claims of Iraqi threats?

I'm not going to re-phrase the whole thing. Go read it here.

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