Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden Are Not Heroes

Mark Bowden explains why:

As an old reporter who has from time to time outed classified information, I have watched the cases of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden with professional interest.

What troubles me about them is not that they broke the oaths they swore when they took their classified government jobs, the thing that makes them liable to prosecution. Government finds all kinds of dubious reasons to keep secrets, sometimes nefarious reasons, and conscience can force one to break a promise. My problem is with the indiscriminate nature of their leaks.

These are young people at war with the concept of secrecy itself, which is just foolish. There are many legitimate reasons for governments to keep secrets, among them the need to preserve the element of surprise in military operations or criminal investigations, to permit leaders and diplomats to bargain candidly, and to protect the identities of those we ask to perform dangerous and difficult missions.

The most famous leakers in American history were motivated not by a general opposition to secrecy but by a desire to expose specific wrongdoing. Mark Felt, the “Deep Throat” who helped steer Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s Watergate reporting, understood that the Nixon Administration was energetically abusing the powers of the presidency. Daniel Ellsberg copied and leaked the Pentagon Papers because they showed that the White House and Pentagon had never really believed the lies they were telling about the Vietnam War.

In other words, they had good reasons. The reporters and editors who published their leaks weighed taking that step seriously, ultimately deciding that the public’s need to know trumped the principle of secrecy. They concluded that the government in these instances was abusing its power.

Manning and Snowden are wholesale leakers. I can’t know this for a fact, but I suspect they were not completely aware of all they carried off. It isn’t just that they didn’t completely understand what they were leaking; they literally did not know what all of it was. Computers enable individual operators to open floodgates. Out spills everything, the legitimate along with the illegitimate. It’s easy, and it’s irresponsible. It proceeds from a Julian Assange-influenced, comic-book vision  of the world where all governments are a part of an evil plot against humanity.

Well put. And of course, this means that the people who support Manning and Snowden are also “at war with the concept of secrecy itself,” not to mention being  at war with the fact that the United States and other countries have every right to preserve and advance their national security interests–sometimes through the use of secrecy. As Bowden indicates, not everything that is secret is bad. Too bad that Manning, Snowden and their allies either don’t understand that fact, or pretend not to understand it.

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