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Where Do You Draw the Line?

letsgetitdone's picture

Here's a memorable piece of video on Xkeyscore, featuring Piers Morgan, Glenn Greenwald, James Risen, and Jeffrey Toobin.

Risen and Greenwald get set up by Morgan pretty well to make Toobin look clueless, and silly, in his insistence that Snowden's done a very valuable thing for American democracy, but nevertheless must pay the price for releasing classified material. This is a village meme running around Washington, New York, and evidently, London, these days.

Yes, Snowden, and to a lesser degree, Manning, have made very valuable contributions to our debate, but people like them and Julian Assange can't expect to escape paying the price for their actions because being a whistle blower requires martyrdom, right? Everyone has to be sacrificial lambs on the altar of justice like Jesus, Gandhi, and King, right?

Well, no, I really don't think so. I really don't think that people who reveal Government overreach, Constitutional violations, and outright crimes (including those against humanity) ought to be subject to criminal prosecutions. Do you? I think the ones who ought to be prosecuted are the law breakers rather than the good citizens seeing injustice and doing something about it. Don't you?

This gets us to a question raised by Piers Morgan in the video. It's a question that others have asked in their coverage of Snowden, Assange, and Manning. Here's Morgan, after acknowledging that he approves of Greenwald's work:

”. . . When it comes to Edward Snowden, where does the line get drawn? What you can't have is a license for every single person that has access or authorization to classified material, just spewing it into the public ether on a whim. You can't have that! So, with modern technology being so all-encompassing, where do you draw the line”?

Well, I have a simple answer to the where do you draw the line question of our media cognoscenti, and my answer isn't that only martyrdom atones for ripping the mask off law breaking by our Government. First, when it comes to Press people, like Greenwald and Assange, we should have laws reinforcing the first amendment, that absolutely place them beyond prosecution for publishing disclosures of classified information. No exceptions! No ifs, ands, or buts! It corrodes democracy and liberty to tolerate anything else.

And when it comes to the people who disclose classified information to the Press, like Manning and Snowden, I think the line needs to be drawn in the following way. If the disclosures involve unconstitutional, or illegal behavior by Government officials, or their contractors, or programs that when used by Government officials, or their contractors lead to such behavior, then the discloser should be absolutely immune from retaliation, or prosecution by any agency of the US Government. Such a discloser is a whistle blower, and has not only a right, but a duty to disclose such material, and also a right to protection when he or she discloses it.

So that's it. You draw the line at disclosing law breaking. That's where you draw the line in a democracy, if you expect to keep that democracy safe. That's where you draw the line if you don't want to risk totalitarianism.

We are rapidly traversing the proverbial slippery slope towards fascism. We need to stop right now! We need legislation that will protect whistle blowers from prosecution when they act to protect democracy. And we must not let Executive judgments of the impacts of disclosures on national security, compromise this need to protect those who can save us from ourselves.

When it comes to security and intelligence issues, the Executive is almost always a liar. It comes with the territory.

Whistle blowers are the only effective check and antidote to Executive dishonesty. Once they make things public, they can mobilize the press, the people and Congress to finally act, and protect our freedoms against the development of absolute power, and the absolute corruption that goes with it. Protect them! Honor them! They are our freedom fighters!

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LD's picture
Submitted by LD on

I know I'll take a hit for this.

But--Why is GG dissing Wikileaks with this comment (below,) when he's been repeatedly such an avid supporter of it and Manning all along? I don't understand what he's attempting to accomplish with these statements, without disparaging Wikileaks in this process:

"There are ways if you have access to classified information you could spill it 'all over the ether,' to use the phrase that you used. He could have uploaded onto the internet en masse. He could have sold it to a foreign adversary. He could have passed it to a foreign government. He could have given it to Wikileaks, and ask them to just publish it all. He did none of that. He came to established media organizations and said please be extremely careful and judicious, go through these documents, publish only what is in the public good that my fellow citizens should know about, and withhold the information that could cause harm. And that's what we've done." (GG in video interview @ ~10:00)

Daniel Ellsberg and Chris Hedges have both stated that "Wikileaks did not mass dump documents onto the internet." Evidence suggests that there were reviews of the materials, name redactions and workings with several established media organizations around the world (New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, etc,) in order disseminate the vast amount of information that it had.

Is there some government threat coming down the pike onto GG, and in an exchange for 'journalist immunity' over the Snowden leak is causing the 'under the bus' comment scenario?

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

Don't know why he did that? Sometimes you don't notice you're buying into the other persons framing.

LD's picture
Submitted by LD on

And now this:

"Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) says a bill protecting reporters and their sources should only apply to 'real journalists,' declaring that WikiLeaks employees, and nonsalaried reporters, don't count.

The "shield law" under debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee would protect journalists and their confidential sources from court orders and subpoenas.

Feinstein criticized the language of the bill Thursday, declaring she was "very disappointed" that the law contained a "flawed definition" of journalists—which she says is inclusive of WikiLeaks and nonsalaried reporters. "I’m concerned this would provide special privilege to those who are not reporters at all," she exclaimed, according to a statement released by her staffers to Common Dreams. Feinstein and Senator Dick Durbin (D - Ill.) are demanding changes to the bill's definition of journalists that reflect these concerns.

As the bill faces a third attempt at passage, after two previous failures, Thursday saw debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee over the definition of journalists and whether unpaid reporters should have the same protections as paid ones. While all parties agreed that WikiLeaks should be excluded from protection, some insisted the language already stipulates that exclusion.

"The world has changed. We’re very careful in this bill to distinguish journalists from those who shouldn’t be protected, WikiLeaks and all those, and we’ve ensured that," said Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y). "But there are people who write and do real journalism, in different ways than we’re used to. They should not be excluded from this bill."

The debate comes amid a chilling climate for journalists and their sources who cross US power. Bradley Manning was found guilty Tuesday of over 20 counts including espionage and is facing a potential 136 years in jail for revealing documents to WikiLeaks that exposed US human rights abuses and corruption across the world.

"It is dangerous to rely on only those sources the government deems worthy of protection," said Nathan Fuller, writer for the Bradley Manning Support Network. "WikiLeaks is a serious news publication: it edits material and protects sources. Wikileaks has anonymous submissions because it knows its contacts don't get protection."

The bill advances following a May scandal in which Justice Department officials were publicly exposed for seizing phone records of AP reporters without due process or notice and monitoring communications of a Fox News reporter.

Meanwhile, journalists expressed outrage at Feinstein's denigration of unpaid reporters in a climate where journalism jobs are quickly disappearing and independent, and often unpaid, reporting plays a key role in exposing the truth and holding power accountable. Author and Nation reporter Jeremy Scahill tweeted the following response:

Sen. Feinstein wants to define who's a "real" reporter. OK. Let's talk about who is a "real" lawmaker.
— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) August 2, 2013"

Submitted by Hugh on

We have a government which is, on the one hand, is classifying many of its activities for which there is no substantial reason for secrecy, other than to avoid political embarrassment and censure, and, on the other hand, is conducting numerous unconstitutional spying programs against its citizens. Piers Morgan would have us believe that there is some fine line or judgment call here, but against the backdrop of a secretive, over reaching government unresponsive to and working actively against the interests of the people of this country, that fine line doesn't exist. Other than revealing specific tactical information about troops in combat, everything else is over reach or ass covering.

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

Many of the village journalists would like us to believe that. But your point of view is the right one!

Jeff W's picture
Submitted by Jeff W on

If the disclosures involve unconstitutional, or illegal behavior by Government officials, or their contractors, or programs that when used by Government officials, or their contractors lead to such behavior, then the discloser should be absolutely immune from retaliation, or prosecution by any agency of the US Government.

At the very least.

Or if the discloser reasonably believes that unconstitutional or illegal behavior is involved. We’d want people to disclose so that such behavior can be determined to be unconstitutional or illegal—we don’t want their immunity to turn on the fact that their belief happens to be right.