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Plugging the Leaks
August 12, 2010 2:39 PM   Subscribe

Shane Harris of the Washingtonian looks at the increasingly aggressive pursuit by the Obama administration of people (especially journalists) who leak sensitive information to the public.
posted by reenum (23 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Shane Harris of the Washingtonian looks at the increasingly aggressive pursuit by the Obama administration of people (especially journalists) who leak sensitive information to the public.

This isn't really accurate. The article talks about the increased number of prosecutions of people who leak information to the press. But given how small the number of such prosecutions was in the first place, I'm not sure the increase is really signifigant.

The Obama administration may be taking a harder line against journalist (in the effort to get them to reveal sources who leaked classified information), but a subpeona is not a prosecution. And furthermore, it's not clear that the Obama administration is "increasingly" doing anything, just that they are more aggressive at pursuing leak investigations than some in journalism or academia hoped or expected them to be.
posted by Jahaza at 3:02 PM on August 12, 2010


Uh-huh. Keep defending him.
posted by nasreddin at 3:10 PM on August 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


it's not clear that the Obama administration is "increasingly" doing anything

Especially if you keep your eyes closed.

The Obama administration is pressing Britain, Germany, Australia, and other allied Western governments to consider opening criminal investigations of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and to severely limit his nomadic travels across international borders, American officials say.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:11 PM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


And furthermore, it's not clear that the Obama administration is "increasingly" doing anything ...

From a 6/11/10 NY Times article:

... the Obama administration is proving more aggressive than the Bush administration in seeking to punish unauthorized leaks.

In 17 months in office, President Obama has already outdone every previous president in pursuing leak prosecutions. His administration has taken actions that might have provoked sharp political criticism for his predecessor, George W. Bush, who was often in public fights with the press.


"Democracy Now" had an interesting segment on this recently, with commentary from Daniel Ellsberg, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, and Glenn Greenwald.
posted by ryanshepard at 3:38 PM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


ryanshepard, et al., I don't deny that the Obama administration has been more aggressive in pursuing leakers than the Bush administration was. However, the FPP says that the Obama administration is "increasingly aggressive". That the Obama administration is "more aggressive" is not the same thing as their becoming increasingly aggressive.
posted by Jahaza at 4:08 PM on August 12, 2010


Also, I wasn't entirely clear above. This part is just nonsensical "of people (especially journalists) who leak sensitive information to the public."

Journalists don't leak information to the public. They publish it. The leakers are those who had the information legitimately and then turned it over to the journalists.
posted by Jahaza at 4:14 PM on August 12, 2010


Bush didn't need to be as aggressive because people were more afraid of him.
posted by eeeeeez at 4:33 PM on August 12, 2010


Just like Republicans ignored Bush's huge increases in defence funding because everybody knows Republicans hate deficit spending, Democrats look the other way because everyone knows Obama loves civil liberties and respects the freedom of the press.

Having said that, it's a choice between right-of-centre or utterly insane and more unthinking vetoes and denial of cloture for every bill going in November, so I'd vote Democratic again. It's just a pity that the Overton window shifts to the right every election; Obama seems more right wing than Nixon, and certainly far more right wing than Roosevelt's trust busting...or, indeed, Clinton's pursuit of Microsoft.
posted by jaduncan at 4:33 PM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Having said that, it's a choice between right-of-centre or utterly insane ...

I'm having a harder and harder time seeing the practical difference, to be honest with you.
posted by ryanshepard at 4:36 PM on August 12, 2010


Its illegal to leak classified information. Period.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:48 PM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Assange should be prosecuted.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:50 PM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm having a harder and harder time seeing the practical difference, to be honest with you.

Republicans pander to their base. Democrats insult theirs.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:54 PM on August 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Its illegal to leak classified information. Period.

And yet it is not illegal to classify information in order to protect oneself from logical consequences. Interesting tension there, innit?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:05 PM on August 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


It's not clear how many -- if any at all -- of the Wikileaks Afghan documents were classified to hide wrongdoings on the part of the US. There are many which don't seem to reveal any wrongdoing at all. I think that Assange's position would have been stronger, and Obama's attempted prosecution of him more tenuous, if Wikileaks had only posted those documents which revealed wrongdoing.
posted by event at 5:14 PM on August 12, 2010


Its illegal to leak classified information. Period.

Not period. It seems to be a little more complicated.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:54 PM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Its illegal to leak classified information. Period.

Golly, then it must be wrong! Exclamation mark!
posted by regicide is good for you at 7:09 PM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Its illegal to leak classified information. Period. Assange should be prosecuted.

Is it illegal for Australians to leak information classified by the American government? And anyway, this isn't just about WikiLeaks and the Afghan War Diary reports. The Obama administration's crackdown on leaks goes way beyond that. Even if you think the war diary stuff should not have been released, there's plenty of reason to be concerned about that larger trend.
posted by twirlip at 9:01 PM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


This article is a hatchet job. Three cases is not a trend. The President doesn't get to decide who gets prosecuted. When leskers of classified information are identified they are prosecuted(except Dick Cheney). Assange may have to worry about Australian law more than US law.
posted by humanfont at 9:36 PM on August 12, 2010


As I understand it, Assange did not leak any classified information but merely repeated some information which had already been leaked to him by his source. I don't think he actually had clearance for the material in the first place! In the US, where you have somewhat free speech and no official secrets act, the only person in trouble is the leaker.
posted by larkery at 3:55 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


The President doesn't get to decide who gets prosecuted.

From the article:
Risen’s 2008 subpoena expired with the term of the grand jury. Media watchers and intelligence officials presumed that the Merlin investigation would go the way of most fruitless searches. But after reviewing leftover leak cases from the Bush administration, the Obama Justice Department decided to revive this one. In April of this year, Risen received another subpoena to appear before the grand jury in Alexandria. [...] According to one former official, the government believes it has already identified a suspect, which could make Risen’s testimony not only unnecessary but also a violation of the department’s own guidelines on media subpoenas.
Personally, I'm not convinced that the Obama administration is being notably more aggressive than Bush. I think the conclusion of the article is a reasonable explanation for what's going on:
To view the administration’s aggressive pursuit of leakers and journalists as an artifact of the current presidency, or as some kind of extension of Obama’s innate intolerance for airing private disagreements, is to miss the greater influence that career government officials have over which cases to bring, and whom to subpoena.

“So much of the decision-making is made by the middle layers of the bureaucracy,” Feldstein says. “They function on autopilot. The career prosecutors don’t change from year to year. Their recommendations are probably the same whether Eric Holder is attorney general or Alberto Gonzales.”

The Justice Department is taking advantage of President Obama’s disdain for leaks by flexing a muscle that it’s been building for almost ten years as the tide has shifted from a protected press establishment toward a stronger prosecutorial force.
So this is a bigger trend that goes beyond just one administration. But at the end of the day, Obama bears responsibility for what his Justice Department does ... and his Justice Department is going after reporters in a way they wouldn't have ten years ago.
posted by twirlip at 12:02 PM on August 13, 2010


Its illegal to leak classified information. Period.

Assange should be prosecuted.


You're assuming that he was subject to U.S. law when he facilitated the leaks. Assange isn't a U.S. citizen and presumably wasn't publishing anything on U.S. servers. That's not a very compelling case that he or his actions are subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:18 PM on August 13, 2010


I wonder if it would be possible to prosecute Assange for breach of copyright?
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:04 AM on August 14, 2010




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