Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation - Memorial Day Reading of the Names of Our Fallen Since 9-11
Memorial Day

Are journalists free to publish classified info?

I think most emphatically not! But that is not the opinion of Snowden's leak manager, enabler and co-conspirator in their classified data dump, Glenn Greenwald. I am speaking here not about whether Snowden and Greenwald released info that people had a "right to know" or evidence of law breaking by the NSA. Neither of those have been conclusively proven either way. I am simply asking whether the decision to knowingly release classified info can and should be made solely at the discretion of a journalist. Let's hear Greenwald.

Through all the bombast, Greenwald makes no serious effort to defend as a matter of law the leaking of official secrets to reporters. He merely asserts that “there are both formal and unwritten legal protections offered to journalists that are unavailable to anyone else. While it is considered generally legitimate for a journalist to publish government secrets, for example, that’s not the case for someone acting in any other capacity.”

Well I disconcur Mr. Greenwald and here is why. The possession of classified information means that you know a secret, but you don't know all of the secret and you certainly can't know the context or the potential damage of releasing that secret. That is why we keep things secret. Substituting your judgment for that of people who do know the whole secret and the other factors relevant to that secret is a mistake. And it can easily become a fatal mistake for the people, acting on our behalf, who are protected by that secret.

I am fully conversant with the First Amendment and it's prohibition against abridging freedoms of speech or of the press. But that is not a license to print anything and everything as libel and copyright laws certainly abridge an unfettered press freedom. So where does publication of known classified information fall? First I think as a legal matter it is somewhat undecided. Providing it to our enemies is treason, which can actually get you hanged, even with your press badge. But it gets murkier when you simply splash it on the front page of a newspaper.

There is a further bit in that First Amendment and it is also relevant here-- the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. In the case of Snowden, Manning and plenty of other leak cases, they had the ability to bring evidence of law breaking or other improprieties to the attention of Inspectors General tasked specifically with dealing with issues like this. Neither Snowden nor Manning did so. Absent at least attempting to resolve any concerns they had through proper channels, both they and their media mouthpieces should not be accorded the benefit of the doubt that they had no alternative.

If the goal is to stop improper or possibly illegal behavior, then reporting it as an actual whistleblower is the right thing and protections exist for those people. If the goal is to create a sensationalistic splash and be hailed as a hero, then the Snowden/Greenwald technique gets you hailed, and sells a lot of papers and pixels. I don't see why that approach is deserving of any special protection and at minimum should be treated as a criminal act.