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Waging War on Leaks

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EFF calls the Senate measure troubling, "given that the government's secrecy system has ballooned to absurd proportions."

Secrecy was always excessive. However, "2011 was particularly egregious." Washington classified 77 million documents, 40% more than the previous year.

Government employees with security clearances number 4.2 million. Air Force families are prohibited from accessing WikiLeaks. The Air Force also bars service members in war theaters from reading The New York Times.

Guantanamo detainee lawyers are prohibited from reading WikiLeaks files pertaining to their clients. Some were publicly released. Numerous other examples show troubling secrecy level annual increases.

Virtually everything in government related to national security and foreign policy is now classified. Doing so is often out of line and improper. It's done to hide embarrassing truths, government waste, corruption, other criminality, and serious constitutional violations.

Former US classification czar, J. William Leonard, calls the system "dysfunctional." It "clearly lacks the ability to differentiate between trivial information and that which can truly damage our nation's well-being."

Bureaucratic overkill stamps virtually everything secret. Leonard was Bush's secrecy chief. He's now a vocal critic. The new Senate measure is another attempt to subvert democracy and conceal wrongdoing through secrecy. 

Whistleblowers are especially at risk. The Times article said FBI investigations into leaks are "casting a distinct chill over press coverage of national security issues as agencies decline routine interview requests and refuse to provide background briefings."

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If enacted, new anti-leaks legislation may permanently alter the way  journalists interact with government officials. Doing so deals democracy another blow. 

EFF calls the most disturbing issue the fact that Congress proposed the measure. According to Steven Aftergood:

"(T)there is something incongruous, if not outrageous, about the whole effort by Congress to induce stricter secrecy in the executive branch, which already has every institutional incentive to restrict public disclosure of intelligence information."

Investigations followed previous leaks. "Substantive" Congressional oversight followed. In contrast, post-9/11, Congress and officials in two administrations targeted whistleblowers with a vengeance.

For example, New Yorker contributor Steve Coll addressed Newsweek reporter Daniel Klaidman's book on Obama's drone strike policy. 

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He discusses "the first instance in American history of a sitting President speaking of his intent to kill a particular US citizen without that citizen having been charged formally with a crime or convicted at trial."
 

When the New York Times discussed cyberattacks on Iran (based on leaks), The Times said doing so was unprecedented. It compared doing so to "the first use of atomic weapons" against Japan.

These and other issues demand open unobstructed debate and scrutiny. Criminalizing it is unconscionable. Everyone has a right to know. Independent journalists especially serve a vital service. They go where mainstream ones won't dare. They do it because it's the right thing to do. Anything less falls short. Free and open societies depend on them.

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I was born in 1934, am a retired, progressive small businessman concerned about all the major national and world issues, committed to speak out and write about them.

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