“In arguing that Manning aided the enemy, the government's case apparently will rest on the assertion that some WikiLeaks material made its way to a digital device found in the possession of Osama bin Laden. This is an ominously broad interpretation. By the government's logic, the New York Times could be accused of aiding the enemy if Bin Laden possessed a copy of the newspaper that included the WikiLeaks material it published.”
“No other country -- not one! -- seems to think that its security depends on being able to wield lethal force on every single continent. When people are scared, they are ... more willing to support various sorts of covert operations, ranging from normal spying to the increasingly far-flung campaign of targeted assassinations and extra-judicial killings that the United States has been conducting for many years now. Never mind that a significant number of innocent foreign civilians have died as a result of these policies or that the net effect of such actions may be to make the problem of terrorism worse over time. It's impossible to know for certain, of course, because the U.S. government won't say exactly what it is doing. ... In December 1917, in the middle of World War I, British Prime Minister Lloyd George told the editor of the Manchester Guardian that 'if the people really knew, this war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don't know and can't know. The correspondents don't write and the censorship would not pass the truth.' I sometimes wonder how Americans would react if we really knew everything that our government was doing. Or even just half of it. ”
We now live in a world where public servants informing the public about government behavior or wrongdoing must practice the tradecraft of drug dealers and spies. Otherwise, these informants could get caught in the web of administrations that view George Orwell’s 1984 as an operations manual.
With the recent revelation that the Department of Justice under the Obama administration secretly obtained phone records for Associated Press journalists — and previous subpoenas by the Bush administration targeting the Washington Post and New York Times — it is clear that whether Democrat or Republican, we now live in a surveillance dystopia beyond Orwell’s Big Brother vision.
So how can one safely leak information to the press?
“So far as I know, this is the first case in this or any other American court that permits a government agency to enter a composing room of a newspaper and dictate to the publisher the layout and makeup of the newspaper's pages. This is the first such case, but I fear it may not be the last. The camel's nose is in the tent.”
—Justice Stewart, dissenting in Pittsburgh Press Co. v. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations
The government’s recent declassification of the Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers corrects a 40-year-mistake. But the motive may have had more to do with defending a current wrong than righting an old one.
Several months ago, the White House directed federal agencies to warn employees and contractors that viewing classified documents made public via WikiLeaks violated “applicable laws and…policies.” After it was pointed out that this notice could be equally applied to the Pentagon Papers – long available on public bookshelves and a staple of modern history courses despite their continued “secret” status – the government announced that they would be declassified.
Unable to regain custody of its pilfered material and unable to block dissemination, the government has taken a new tack – forbidding people to look at it, including Stars and Stripes journalists, whose very work is about gathering information, not suppressing or avoiding it.
The argument goes like this: As a federal appeals court ruled in a 2009 case involving outed CIA officer Valerie Plame, classified information can be declassified only by government process. Leaking or even publicizing it does not declassify it in the eyes of the law. Federal employees are obligated to protect classified information and may not view it without authorization. Stars and Stripes journalists are employed by the government. Therefore, they must protect and avoid restricted information like anyone else on the federal roll.Insisting the Pentagon Papers remain classified during the 40 years they were in wide public circulation was simply petulant. Threatening punishment for merely viewing what is already posted in the digital public square is downright ominous. Mark J. Prendergas
“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”
“Audits of political opponents, illegal bombings, domestic wiretaps, spying on the press—Obama as Nixon?”
The US Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for the Associated Press in what the news cooperative’s top executive called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into how news organizations gather the news.
The records obtained by the Justice Department listed incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Connecticut, and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP.
In all, the government seized those records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices whose phone records were targeted on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.
Attorney General Eric Holder recently appeared before the House Judiciary Committee and denied any involvement in the abuse searches targeting the Associated Press by the Obama Administration. Holder seemed to morph with his predecessor Alberto Gonzales with a mantra of “I have no knowledge” and “I had no involvement” in the scandal. It was a disturbing defense in one of the greatest attacks on the free press in modern times. Now, however, Holder’s fingerprints have been found on an equally disturbing targeting of a Fox reporter, James Rosen. As with the Associated Press, Rosen was targeted for simply speaking with a source in a story involving classified information. Even his parents telephone information was seized in the abusive operation where Rosen was declared a “possible co-conspirator” in violations of the Espionage Act.
Holder’s order led to Justice Department investigators secretly seizing his private emails because he was found to have “asked, solicited and encouraged … (a source) to disclose sensitive United States internal documents and intelligence information.” That is called being a reporter.
It is astonishing to see apologists continuing their effort to excuse the record of the Obama Administration in attacking reporters and whistleblowers. While various public interest and media groups have denounced these acts, many still cannot get themselves to criticize President Obama for this disgraceful legacy. Obama has been aware of the criticism for targeting reporters and whistleblowers for years and has done nothing — just as he is aware of the complaints of civil libertarians over kill lists, torture, and other abusive policies. He has not simply destroyed the civil liberties movement in the United States, as previously discussed, but the very soul of the Democratic Party which once [briefly] stood for principles of privacy and the free press.
These issues were placed squarely before Holder in the Rosen search and he did what he has done in so many other constitutional conflict: he kicked principle into the gutter. He has shown again that his view of constitutional protections borders on open contempt. He is the very image of what Louis Brandeis once described in his dissenting opinion in Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928):
Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.
“[M]ore than a year ago, a federal judge ruled that the First Amendment already gave her the power to quash a subpoena for testimony by a Times journalist, James Risen, in the prosecution of a former Central Intelligence Agency official accused of leaking about an earlier effort to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program. The Obama administration has appealed.”