Leaks Are Not Trivial

British Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron is threat­en­ing some seri­ous action against the Guardian:

Cameron told the Com­mons dur­ing a state­ment on the EU Coun­cil: “We have a free press, it’s very impor­tant the press feels it is not pre-cen­sored from what it writes and all the rest of it.

The approach we have tak­en is to try to talk to the press and explain how dam­ag­ing some of these things can be and that is why The Guardian did actu­al­ly destroy some of the infor­ma­tion and discs that they have but they’ve now gone on and print­ed fur­ther mate­r­i­al which is dam­ag­ing.

I don’t want to have to use injunc­tions or D notices or the oth­er tougher mea­sures. I think it’s much bet­ter to appeal to news­pa­pers’ sense of social respon­si­bil­i­ty.

But if they don’t demon­strate some social respon­si­bil­i­ty it would be very dif­fi­cult for Gov­ern­ment to stand back and not to act.”

The pol­i­tics of these leaks have been suc­cess­ful­ly con­strained by Glenn Green­wald and his col­leagues at the Guardian such that even ques­tion­ing their deci­sion to pub­lish cer­tain doc­u­ments amounts to an attack on Jour­nal­ism (capital‑J) and free speech. This is a real loss, because leak­ing wan­ton­ly about intel­li­gence oper­a­tions pos­es the very real risk of putting lives in dan­ger — some­thing the most ardent defend­ers of Edward Snow­den’s leaked doc­u­ments go out of their way to deny. I wrote about this in Bea­con:

In a recent inter­view on “60 Min­utes,” the Deputy Direc­tor of the CIA, Mike Morell, iden­ti­fies just how dam­ag­ing the Snow­den leaks have been. It’s not just a ques­tion of expos­ing indi­vid­ual pro­grams — say the Chi­nese IP address­es being mon­i­tored by the NSA — but the over­all extent of intel­li­gence activ­i­ty. By pub­lish­ing the black bud­get, which also showed how dis­rup­tive pre­vi­ous leaks had been, Edward Snow­den caused enor­mous dam­age to the coun­try.

It would allow our adver­saries,” he told CBS’s John Miller, “to focus their coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence efforts on those places where we’re being suc­cess­ful, and not have to wor­ry as much about those places where we’re not being suc­cess­ful.”

It was like “hand­ing over the play­book,” Miller said. Morell nod­ded.

But still, many insist these leaks are not a sys­tem­at­ic attack on the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty even when there is copi­ous evi­dence sug­gest­ing it is. And the con­se­quence is whip­ping Europe into a fren­zy over the leaks, con­strain­ing U.S. behav­ior right at a cru­cial junc­ture in trade nego­ti­a­tions.

There’s a lot in there. I hope you’ll con­sid­er sub­scrib­ing.

Joshua Foust used to be a foreign policy maven. Now he helps organizations communicate strategically and build audiences.