Wikileaks: The Witch Hunt Begins

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In “WikiLeaks: The National-Security State Strikes Back” (Harper’s, August 3), Scott Horton predicts the government’s reaction to the disclosure of 91,000 documents from the Afghan war.  The reprisal will begin with “an information war targeting WikiLeaks,” in which the intelligence community gins up fear that the disclosures “imperil the safety of American forces on the ground, America’s allies, and thus every American citizen sitting at home.”

Next, Horton writes, the government will make an example of the leaker through “harsh and heavy-handed prosecution or court-martial,” to discourage others from blowing the whistle.  Finally, destruction of the main target, WikiLeaks, will further deter others in the government from making disclosures.

Indeed, as I noted in March, long before these leaks, the Army Counterintelligence Center had prepared a 32-page secret plan to destroy WikiLeaks. The memo notes that the American intelligence community has valuable allies in the struggle against WikiLeaks—China, North Korea, Russia, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. It recommended emulating the tactics used by these tyrannical states. [Horton]

White House officials say the leaked documents threaten national security. But, no concrete evidence of that has been provided. Horton argues that suppression of embarrassing information is itself a threat to national security.

If information can be routinely suppressed because it is embarrassing to political leaders or would undermine the arguments they make to the nation, then our democracy is faltering. In the wake of these disclosures, Americans should carefully judge the conduct of those who claim that suppressing the leaks is in the interests of national security. Are they upholding national security, or are they betraying American democracy? [Horton]

The question of how much secrecy is good for the country will likely be settled in a courtroom.  But, in the history of American witch hunts, from Salem to the present, fair and open trials have been nearly as rare as unicorn teeth.

National Security at a Crossroads

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Tom Devine, Legal Director for the nonprofit Government Accountability Project, has worked on 5,000 whistleblower cases.  In an op-ed for the Washington Post, he describes the dilemma of conscientious national security employees who are forced by dysfunctional agencies to choose between leaking anonymously to the media or blowing the whistle internally, an act of “career suicide.”  Whether the whistle is blown internally or externally, increasingly, the government is responding with criminal investigations and prosecutions.  “No wonder so many remain silent,” Devine writes.

When government shoots the messenger, all Americans pay a price in weakened defenses against terrorism and other national security threats.  Amending the dysfunctional Whistleblower Protection Act to cover FBI and intelligence employees and give all government employees solid protections would give government agencies strong incentives to take a more constructive approach to whistleblowing.  But, pending legislation that would do that has come to a halt in the Senate, where “lawmakers have not overcome repeated secret holds by opponents,” says Devine.

The public could demand an end to the Senate logjam.  Will you?