A Case Against Leaking

Friday, May 21, 2010


We frequently celebrate government leakers and the news organizations that publish those leaks. But in his new book, Necessary Secrets: National Security, The Media and The Rule Of Law, Gabriel Schoenfeld argues that, historically, leaks of classified information have often been destructive, dangerous and illegal. Working backwards from a couple of 2005 New York Times leak-inspired exposés, Schoenfeld makes his case against the sanctity of revelation.

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Comments [15]

Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

I think Mr. Warmowski is thinking in 20th Century terms and that the threat we face from militants (foreign or domestic) has a force multiplier that the Axis did not. Without vigilance some one of them will explode a dirty bomb and foul some area at least as dangerously as an Exxon Valdez spill (still noticeable by nose, I read) if not as horrible as a Deep Water Horizon gusher. Now, that's only if they can't get their hands on a backpack tactical nuclear weapon, originally designed for the Black Forest during the Cold War, I believe.

I do feel he has a firm grasp of history and the principle of freedom of the press as, obviously, your guest does not.

May. 27 2010 10:27 AM
David Rowe from New Jersey

Timely report, as the New York Times just leaked a Gen. Petraeus memo that said we were going to do operations on the ground in Iran, something that will make Obama look tough... but threaten the lives of those in the operations.

May. 25 2010 10:31 PM
Henry Hecht from demarest, NJ

Your interesting piece on “The Case Against Leaking” contains one minor error of fact and one of perception.

Senator Burton K. Wheeler was a Montana Democrat, not a Republican. Quite a few members of both parties – especially veterans from the Western half of the country – grew up with strong liberal convictions (Republican Borah of Idaho was another) but also suspicion of foreign involvement. Most opposed our entry into WW I and hadn’t changed their minds as WW II approached.

And when Mr. Schoenfield argues that some of the leaks of our pre-Pearl Harbor intelligence findings had “destructive” consequences, he overreaches when he cites Hitler rushing to declare war on us as one example. Getting Hitler to declare war on us was a blessing, not a disaster.

I was a college sophomore at the time and as I recalled in a poem reflecting on December 1941,

Wednesday the Tenth, a truly major favor
by Adolf Hitler – declaring war on us.
Once Japan struck, it was inevitable
we’d have to fight all of the Axis powers.
Yet quite a few old isolationists, quickly turned Japan hawks,
counseled a fierce Pacific war, but “stay aloof
from Europe – let them stew in their own troubles.”
Such arguments would surely fail – but simply raising them
would sew divisions in a land that sorely needed unity.
Hitler’s preemptive action solved the dilemma for us.
United we could move ahead. Praise be to God.

And if it really took a leak to spur Hitler into action, then Praise the Leak!

May. 25 2010 12:32 PM
Jared from USA

I may be wrong, but I thought the constitutional convention wasn't held in secret to ignore public influences, but rather because they were overthrowing the Articles of Confederation.

May. 25 2010 12:21 AM
Bob Garfield

@rob warmowski,
he writes at length about mccormick, and we discussed him in the interview.

bob garfield

May. 24 2010 10:17 PM
Tom Jackson

The problem with this entire discussion, the author, the comments, and so on, is that it is based on almost zero information. And therefore, an immense amount of this is just plain wrong at best.

May. 24 2010 04:12 PM
Gloria Sayler

I can't factcheck Mr. Schoenfeld's assertion that Sen Burton Wheeler leaked information to the Chicago paper, but I can say that BK Wheeler, my grandfather, was not a Republican. He was known as Bolshevik Burt in his early career in Butte, and was the vice presidential candidate in 1924 on the Progressive Farm Labor ticket. He was very much opposed US involvement in WW II in its early years because he had visited Europe in 1923 as a newly elected Senator. He was quite affected by the devastation that WWI had wreaked on the countries he visited.
He was also opposed to Roosevelt's court packing - which my parent's Progressive Party friends later realized was a very courageous and important stand.
I appreciate that OTM tries to offer various perspectives. but I would also appreciate a little more factchecking by the OTM staff.

May. 24 2010 12:26 PM
Rob Warmowski from Chicago

"Citing the history of consequential disclosures?"

Not quite. As a justification for prosecution of leakers, Schoenfeld's argument is astoundingly weak.

If Schoenfeld is going to cite Herbert Yardleys' 1930s book concerning cryptography against the Japanese prior to Pearl Harbor, why does he not mention that the blueblood political enemy of President Roosevelt, Robert McCormick, spilled the beans in his Chicago Tribune newspaper in 1942, publishing that US breaking of Japanese naval codes had played a central role in the US victory at the Battle of Midway?

No doubt this is not mentioned because it is poison to his ridiculous argument. Not only does the historical fact obliterate Schoenfeld's assertion that Japan's codemaking was improved by Yardley's book, FDR's wartime response demonstrates the exact opposite of the dimwitted, authoritarian impulse against leakers that Shoenfeld would have us indulge.

Had Schoenfeld and people like him held sway in the White House at the time, the newspaper office would have seen riflemen in its offices and McCormick brought up on treason charges.

Instead, FDR recognized what people like Schoenfeld don't: the United States is not a place where gulags await speakers of truth. If it was not so during the most pitched military contest the country has ever faced, it should certainly not be so now when we are far less engaged, facing far, far less risk than we faced during WWII.

Shame on OTM, shame on Gabriel Schoenfeld and shame on anybody who falls for this outrageous crap.

May. 24 2010 10:50 AM
John Hooten from Lewisville, TX

Your guest, Gabriel Schoenfeld, made the assertion that US code breakers and security had been compromised by the release of information about Japan in the late 1920's and 1930's by a former cryptographer. Oddly enough, by April of 1942, only 4 months after the US entered the war, the US was able to determine that Midway would be attacked and set an ambush for the Imperial Japanese Navy. The code breakers were also able to determine where Admiral Yamamoto was going and ambushed his aircraft in
April 1943. Mr. Gabriel Schoenfeld needs a refresher course in World War II history. Especially a refresher course in the Enigma machines and the Japanese variations used.....h

May. 24 2010 03:23 AM
jesse monroy from Menlo Park, Ca

Can I call this guy a Cheney Crackpot? Bob I'm glad you gave him some time, but not too much. I'm a Republican, maybe a Libertarian, maybe one day a teadrinker, but never a kool-aid drinker. ;-)

May. 24 2010 02:42 AM

As Peter says above, it's hard to comprehend how this program either extended the government's capability, or (more relevantly to Mr. Schoenbfeld's argument) how its relevation would have convinced a terrorist he was more likely to be tapped than he might have thought before.

This is an essential buttress of Schoenfeld's argument, and the argument of everyone who contends that the revelation of this secret hurt national security; it's disappointing that Bob Garfield didn't ask him about it.

May. 23 2010 05:32 PM
Peter Capek from Ossining, NY

Concerning the NY Times Risen/Lichtblau revelations:

It was well known prior to 2005 that NSA had the technical capability to intercept foreign communications (See Bamford, and other sources.) The essential news in their reporting was that the government was bypassing legal process (the FISA Court) in applying these abilities. So what was the harm to operational security? At most, that NSA might be able to wiretap foreign operatives more rapidly by not having to go to court first. And indeed, not even that, because the law prior to that time allowed for such wiretapping without court consent if the consent was requested and achieved withing a reasonable period.

So the only important revelation was the violation by the government of the law. Had Al Qaida read Bamford (which perhaps it has), it would know all it needed about the US ability to eavesdrop. The Times did no further harm.

May. 23 2010 04:43 PM
Potomacker from Nanjing, PRC

Yes, we should take Haydn at his word even though in the past, the government has lied and overstated claims of damage to national security. Michael Haydn, who defended the illegal wiretapping of domestic telephone calls contrary to FISA. Is he the best example of an omniscient, trustworthy government official that the author could cite? Would Mr. Schoenfeld, or should we all call him, Gabriel like the interviewer, show where in the Constitution or in legal precedent the public right to not know has been recognized?
Pulling rights out of thin air is something is a charge normally leveled at liberals. Whatever has the Hudson Institute become?

May. 23 2010 02:48 AM

Mr. Schoenfeld makes the argument that the Swift financial tracking was completely legal; which maybe the case for the USA, but this was a far bigger program centered on Belgian databases. So, while the US may sign off on the program there are still European privacy laws which are likely to have been violated.

May. 22 2010 01:34 PM
Kahlid from Philly PA

It's about time this part of the story was told. Bravo!

May. 22 2010 12:36 PM

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