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.

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joshua.foust
Joshua Foust is a writer and analyst who studies foreign policy.