Criminal Leaker or Ethical Whistleblower; Which Is It?

Todays’s quote from Attorney General Sessions in the August 4, 2017, edition of the Washington Post, “This culture of leaking must stop,” carries a big load of ‘gravitas,’ serious implications, warnings, “you leakers better watch” type implications. It shows now that the reactions of the current administration will no longer be ineffectual tweets, short lived, ineffectual, don’t know what they’re doing communications directors, but that it is now time for the guys with the gold federal shields to start doing the heavy lifting.

The article from which AG Sessions’ quote was taken, “Attorney general says Justice Dept. has tripled the number of leak probes,” is well worth the read. The authors Matt Zapotsky and Devlin Barrett offer a refreshingly middle of the road, give every viewpoint its say and a non-inflammatory account of this knotty dilemma. For instance, they trace the last few years of leaks historically in the Obama administration and it surprised me to learn that Obama has as much or more trouble with leaks, had an extremely aggressive policing-investigative approach. I basically thought the opposite and now I attribute that to former President Obama’s quieter personality and stance of not yelling to hilltops about the issue.
 One interesting explanation concerned how long it takes for these kinds of investigations in any administration to get going and produce results. People who do not accept the seemingly necessary “processes” of chains of command and ways large organizations or bureaucracies must work, will likely find their blood boiling a little bit. Others will realize that once again, one must let “due course” take its time to be thorough, double check everything and so on.
However, the latter part of the article really set me back on my thinking stump as it started to examine the incredibly difficult of when is someone who releases classified or other kinds of secret materials to the public realm a leaker and therefore a criminal, or when their purpose and result turns out to be for the public good and they are a whistleblower who has down us all a favor in uncovering bad things such as graft, collusion, traitors, corruption of any kind, abuse of those in power of their stature and power, etc.
I always come back to the leaker of all leakers, and for someone like me who is way over 30, it is NOT (yet) Edward Snowden, the leaker of the modern age I suppose is how I would label him.
And the leaker of ALL leakers for me was undeniably DEEP THROAT of the Watergate era. He feared so much for his life, safety and God knows what else, retaliation against his family perhaps?, that he met in the dark at night in the shadows of concrete parking lots with Woodward and Bernstein to impart to their piece by piece the information of a Hansel and Gretel string of crumbs in the scary forest variety, that those two very brave investigative reporters had to proceed so cautiously, that at times they were doing spy stuff, check to see if you have a tail, trust almost no one (except their brave publishers), etc. And then only several years ago, with Deep Throat’s permission, he let his identity as a White House assigned FBI agent, named Mark Felt come out. He was in his 80’s, in very rapidly failing health, being cared for by a member of his family and starting to have early dementia. I remember seeing the tv interview with him and came away with a sense of awe at his bravery and the fact that of all the “crooks” in the Nixon White House, he was one of the few that had a sense of right and wrong, and a conscience, like a few others especially John Dean and Mr. A. Butterfield who revealed the existence of the Nixon Oval Office tapes which were the nail in the coffin of the Nixon Presidency and all the cover-up.
I have absolutely no HONEST idea whether there is scandal in the current White House in spite of all the months of din about the possibility or likelihood of such in the media’s {I have slaughtered the rules of English as in using the misspelled media’s I wish to convey I am including all the media that did not exist in the 1970’s].
AG Sessions himself offered one attempt at defining illegal leaks as quoted in the article, “saying illegal leaks are ‘extraordinarily damaging to the United States’ security.’” Under this definition, Edward Snowden’s and Robert Hanson’s release of secrets would qualify; Hanson’s revelations and purveying of national secrets destroyed human intelligence networks, had people killed and more. Snowden’s information release to Wikileaks is harder to call. Many of us resented the news of the scope and depth of routine surveillance as it seemed to be sketched out by the NSA, and the material did us no favors as news of spying of leaders of our allies emerged, though it turned out apparently lots of allies did that too. It makes my head ache as I have tried to read through some parts of the Snowden material authors and curators have excerpted for the curious citizen to try to grapple with and decide the morality of his acts. I for one largely cannot but somehow I don’t think it should have been done, that it certainly did not achieve the naive ideas of revolutionary change he seemed to have and that these things would have emerged at least in form and process the more I hear the several former heads of the NSA and other spy organizations discuss all this at forums.
The Post then went on to open up the administration’s apparent new line of action which may well be to start subpoenaing reporters to force them to reveal their sources. I remember maybe 15 years or more ago when a lady New Your Times reporter was found in contempt of court in some case and went to jail and she stayed as my inexact memory tells me for weeks! I cannot recall whether she recanted and revealed her source or not.
In any case my attorney friends, have always treated this subject like the “honest to God” plague as they say in the South because of one issue that I confess I have never seen occur and that is that once the door is opened about the source, then the hush-hush stuff can come out and be made the business of the court whether or not it is damaging to whomever, sort of like in slander/libel suits (do you really want the public to know you had 200 affairs instead of just two?) or something like that.
The forces of protection of the rights of the “Fifth Estate,” (the media) to protect their sources has historically been enshrined as another pillar of freedom that distinguishes this country from countries that are not free. and the forces working ever diligently are already marshaling themselves to do so. For instance the authors of this article note and I quote, “Danielle Brian, executive director at the Project On Government Oversight, said ‘leak investigations might inappropriately target well-intentioned whistleblowers.'” Further, to expand the value of ‘whistleblowers,’ “Whistleblowers are the nation’s first line of defense against fraud, waste, abuse, and illegality within the federal government, the last thing this administration wants to do is to deter whistleblowing in an effort to stymie leaks.”

Additionally, the authors note the legal circumstance that

“Prosecutors who bring charges against people for sharing information with the public can do so only when classified or other national security material is at issue.[The] Material cannot be classified to conceal legal violations or prevent embarrassment…”So if there are more leakers/whistleblowers, I expect we all will be exposed to seemingly endless court cases and proceedings first deciding if the revelations actions taken by someone were illegal and should proceed to prosecution and heavy duty punishment. Or. the courts (and I expect that there may be more than a few cases given the anger emanating from the Administration like every other Administration in recent history it seems over this issue) hear all kinds of testimony, have arcane rulings most of us won’t be able to quite understand the logic or sense of. And, then the defendant will be exonerated, declared a nice upstanding whistleblower, given their back wages and a smiling picture on the front page of the paper.

I think this sure is a weird and complicated method to determine if someone has a sense of true ethics and a conscience that stays focused on what is the greater good.