Grilli: The leaks giveth, and the leaks taketh away

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This is an installment of Louis Grilli’s weekly column “As I See It.”

In the information age, political life has changed a great deal (as I’ve covered in previous columns). One of the changes we have seen in recent years is “the leak.” While it’s not a change, it has become ubiquitous.

The leak has been a tool of the reporter and anathema to the public official for decades. A leak, of course, denotes the activity of an individual who takes it upon themselves to disseminate classified information to the public through the medium of the press. Members of the press will often sift through large amounts of documentation and decode the recondite information for the reading public. Usually, this activity is a punishable crime, as the contents of the leak are more often than not very sensitive military or personal information, and not the victim’s dry cleaning bill.
 
Early on in the general election cycle of 2016, after both parties had voted on their nominees, the morally dubious and aptly named website WikiLeaks, run by its furtive Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange, was able to obtain the personal emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.

WikiLeaks and its proprietor had already been making headlines for years after their publication of leaked intelligence documents provided to them by then-Bradley now Chelsea Manning.

Many of the documents obtained from John Podesta contained politically inconvenient information pertaining to Clinton’s deleted emails. Some of the manuscript of her famous Wall Street speeches were included in these leaks that contained her desire for “open borders.”

This was all to the glee of Clinton’s opponent, Donald Trump. He noisily lauded the meddling of Wikileaks and its benefactor: Russia. Trump explicitly called for the further hack of high-level democrats by Russia so that the American people would be able to know the truth about Clinton’s missing emails. Here, he was betting that those emails did not contain references to Chelsea Clinton’s wedding or any of Clinton’s charitable activity as she had claimed.
 
Fast forward just a few months and we find ourselves in exactly the opposite situation. More recently, leaks from the intelligence community have provided the press with information that led to the resignation of one of President Trump’s national security advisors, Michael Flynn. The New York Times ran a piece using leaked information that noted Michael Flynn and other officials in the Trump campaign had contact with Russian officials. The president took to Twitter to denounce these leaks, writing, “The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?”

The leaks giveth, and the leaks taketh away.

The hypocrisy of the statement is apparent to anyone paying attention, but it speaks to a larger problem in politics today. Granted, these leaks are of a different kind. The hacks that were perpetrated against John Podesta were accomplished by a foreign power, outside the jurisdiction of prosecution by the United States and did not contain sensitive information vital to national security or a criminal investigation. The leaks that have taken place against the Trump administration were perpetrated by American citizens working within the United States and contained classified material relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia.

These leaks also revealed privacy laws were transgressed when U.S. citizens were wiretapped during the Justice Department’s investigation into Michael Flynn.

With all that being said, it is hypocritical of any partisan, the president included, in cheering on illegal leaks for one side and not the other. An illegal leak should concern every citizen of the country because it means our nation’s secrets are not completely secret. If anyone has been politically conscious for the last few years, they will remember the Chelsea Manning “Iraq War Logs” that led to her arrest and prosecution under the Espionage Act. Her sentence was later inanely commuted by President Obama before he left office.

This is perhaps the most chilling part of leaking information. It has not been taken seriously. President Obama had just finished excoriating the Russians for hacking the Democratic National Convention emails; he then turned around and commuted the sentence of one of the most prolific leakers in our country’s history. Edward Snowden gets similar treatment with constant calls from sundry political factions who would see the rule of law abrogated for his pardon.

Illegal leaks should be taken seriously and perpetrators should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. That is, if we have a prayer of keeping confidential material, you know, confidential. If these individuals were so concerned about the information they were distributing, they could and should have taken it through the proper channels for internal investigation. A patriot who is concerned about private information takes it to their boss, not The Washington Post.

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