Recently, the New York Times accused the Obama administration of using a double standard in its enforcement of the Espionage Act, originally created to “punish those who give aid to our enemies.” While prosecuting six suspects under the Act -- more than all other administrations combined -- the Obama administration is permitting frequent so-called “authorized leaks” primarily to the media to make sensitive or classified intelligence information publicly available.
These leaks frequently splatter the front pages of major newspapers and other media, promising a behind-the-scenes, privileged look into important government business. More recently, television shows and movies, including one with “top-level access to the most classified mission in history,” were employed by the administration. Disclosures, including the intimate details of methods used by U.S. military and intelligence agencies in the sensitive military operation against Osama Bin Laden, are aimed at a bold political agenda: improving the perception of the administration and its policies, and providing inside access to journalists in return for more sympathetic stories.
The Obama administration cannot have it both ways. The President should be commended for setting a new precedent by prosecuting under the Espionage Act as it is intended, but as the New York Times suggests, playing both sides is really one step forward and two backwards. Put simply, in the wrong hands, classified information may be “reasonably expected to cause grave damage to national security” such as “compromising national defense plans.” Other than selling newspapers and short-term political points, nothing good comes from its disclosure.
We live in a country whose openness and transparency could also lead to its downfall. As demonstrated by Sun Tzu’s principle, “a military operation involves deception,” the Chinese understand the dangers of being too open and sharing too much when it comes to protecting their national security.
These days Sun Tzu’s principle is still very relevant. Back in 1917 when the Espionage Act was issued, the worst a typical spy could do was covertly pass a few photos or documents to the wrong guy. We now live in such serious times where a single rogue insider can pocket a flash-drive with millions of documents and make them available to the entire world in seconds. These dangers are being realized now as Wikileaks boasts of publishing hundreds of thousands of documents for all our enemies to see.
The administration’s brazen, frequent use of authorized leaks supporting its goals and Vice-Presidential blunders such as Joe Biden's acknowledgement that a Navy SEAL team was behind the Bin Laden raid may get re-election political points, but they put our men and women in uniform and our nation in grave danger. For example, what if a new terrorist arises on the level of Bin Laden and makes his home in Pakistan? Does the President think that terrorists are not smart enough to adapt their tactics after seeing a documentary of the raid?
Many suspect, for example, that VP Biden’s acknowledgment and the downing of a helicopter packed with SEALs soon after in Afghanistan was not a coincidence. What’s more is that the Administration’s haphazard care for sensitive information encourages similar careless behavior for others in other senior government positions. The more government officials see splashed across front pages that an official “spoke on condition of anonymity because of its classified nature,” the less seriously they will take their role to protect the same information.
President Obama should recognize that our men and women in uniform fought and won our freedom for us in the first place. To maintain our freedom, he should honor our military by ending the mixed signals he sends through haphazard disclosures and protect the country’s national security information.