Among those leakers there are those who are always keen to describe themselves at whistleblowers.
There is a distinction to be made between individuals who resign from their posts in protest of a particular policy, and then complain to the media, and those who leak information and remain at their desks. The issue is topical, not just because of the WikiLeaks debacle, but because two Americans are about to go to jail.
Shamai Leibowitz is a former FBI linguist who passed classified intelligence information to an unidentified blogger, and he is about to begin a twenty-month sentence. Coincidentally, Thomas Drake, a former National Security Agency officer charged with having disclosed classified information to a reporter, pleaded not guilty, and will go on trial in March 2011.
Among those leakers there are those who are always keen to describe themselves at whistleblowers, which category includes Clive Ponting, David Shayler, Mary McCarthy and the tragic Dr David Kelly.
It will be remembered, of course, that none of these individuals resigned their posts on some point of principle and made public statements to protest some iniquity. In fact Clive Ponting clung to his position in the Ministry of Defence, denied his leaks about the sinking of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano and even suggested another candidate as the guilty party.
David Shayler was an MI5 officer who, when told he had no future in the organization, attempted to break his employment contract by adopting an alias in an effort to publish a book. His disclosures, incidentally, did not come with a mile of “whistleblowing” but were voyeuristic and sensationalist newspaper tales. Mary McCarthy was a CIA officer who was fired, not for leaking classified information about the notorious black sites to the media, but because she failed a polygraph and lied about being the culprit.
And as for the desperate figure of the WMD expert David Kelly, he also was caught in a lie before a Parliamentary committee and, stricken by remorse, took his own life. Not one of them was a whistleblower, and neither was the GCHQ linguist Katherine Gun who passed an NSA email to the Observer but escaped prosecution when the case against her was dropped.
The so-called whistleblower responsible for passing tens of thousands of classified battlefield messages from Afghanistan has been identified and now faces prosecution, but his culpability is shared by WikiLeaks who never bothered to examine the material, claiming there was simply too much to examine.
Accordingly, the whole lot was placed on the internet, leaving it to the Taliban to sift the texts and identify those in their ranks who had cooperated with the Coalition. Apparently undeterred by outrage expressed by the Pentagon, WikiLeaks has moved its internet server from Iceland to Sweden and plans to make many thousands more military files available.
There is often an almost voyeuristic delight in reading other people’s secrets, but some in the media take the view that there is never a god reason for keeping matters confidential. Always suspecting over-classification to prevent political embarrassment, they have no interest in protecting intelligence sources and methods, and in this case it is obvious that lives have been put in jeopardy.
Doubtless WikiLeaks believed that scrutiny of the messages would reveal atrocities or some Watergate-scale, but they have not. Instead a military intelligence analyst is in custody, facing serious charges.