Not that long ago I criticized the Obama administration for using “national security” as a rationale for cracking down on leaks by folks in the government.
I wrote in a column seven years ago for the National Journal, “As I was sitting with my three grown sons over the post-Thanksgiving weekend watching football at their place … my oldest son, who served in the Army for five years and was deployed in Iraq for nearly a year and a half, turned to me and asked, ‘When as a country did we become a place where the government gets upset when its secrets are revealed but has no problem knowing all our secrets and invading our privacy?’”
It’s a critical question today as well.
Now we are in even more dangerous territory with President Trump and Attorney General Sessions announcing a new concerted effort to crack down on leakers.
This harkens back to President Nixon‘s efforts in the early 1970s to use White House “plumbers” to stop information leaks. This was after the release of the Pentagon Papers revealed how military and government officials had misled the American people about the Vietnam War.
Yes, revealing secrets that genuinely threaten national security is a concern.
But I have come to believe that our default position should be more openness and transparency — not only by our government, but in our personal relationships as well.
The only way to rebuild and keep trust is to be open and honest.
Let’s take the current situation with President Trump and this White House and explore some key takeaways:
1. Before we start prosecuting leakers, I would like to know, what is the real significance and effect of the leaks on national security concerns? I don’t accept the knee-jerk response that any leak is damaging to national security. Americans are not dumb. We can understand an explanation and evaluate its truthfulness. If leaks don’t have clear national security concerns, then why is the release of information to the public a threat? Let’s be transparent and let the American public decide.
2. The only leak of classified information in the first six months of this presidency which I see as having had a real impact on national security was by President Trump himself, when he revealed to Russians in the Oval Office secret intelligence about ISIS provided to us by our ally, Israel. I know of no other significant leak of classified intelligence. If Sessions wants to crack down on damaging leaks, then start at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.