Whistleblowing vs. Leaking
It can and should be argued that information that threatens national security should be kept secret.
However, when secrets are designed to protect government incompetence and political views, democracy is threatened.
Whistleblowing was intended to legally protect those who expose illegal and immoral activities.
An example of leaking is bringing to light protected corporate or government information. For example, exposing trade secrets. Few would argue that this is not necessary in today's world.
Thus, leaking is illegal.
The problem arises when the line between whistleblowing and leaking is intentionally blurred to a point that whistleblowing becomes an illegal offense that can mark you as a kind of domestic terrorist or "enemy of the state" -- categories for which there can be almost no legal protection.
The incredible levels of invectiveness vented against people like Julie Davis, a customs boarder security officer, and Sibel Edmonds, a FBI translator, are cases in point.
It can easily be argued that these women were simply doing their jobs, which in each case was to protect the United States.
They got in major trouble because they revealed that the agencies they worked for were not doing their jobs and were thereby endangering the country.
Arguably, both should be classified as "whistleblowers," but those whistleblowers made the mistake of putting national security ahead of protecting the reputations of the agencies they worked for, and as a result they suffered severe retaliation.
So now instead of being exemplary tales of how the idea of whistleblowing should work, they become cautionary tales about the problems you can create for yourself by trying to do the right thing -- by doing the job you are supposed to do.
We don't have the room here to go into these cases, but the book, Classified Woman, by Sibyl Edmonds, which reads like a modern spy novel and has received mostly five-star reviews on Amazon.com, provides a good example.
The book is so damning that the U.S. Congress -- the ultimate agency that's supposed to address and fix such things -- has been prevented from even discussing the case.
A Seattle Post editorial summarized trying to legally defend yourself from the government's charges by likening it to Alice's frustration at her tea party where "a secret is a secret, but why it's a secret or who says it's secret is a secret, and we can't tell you because that's secret."
Thus, evidence that might help you is illegal to bring up or talk about. In fact, it's even illegal to reveal that you've received a subpoena from the government.
Even widely available Internet information can suddenly become classified.
And if the information predates a classification stamp, the Justice Department can retroactively classify it, as it did in the case of Sibyl Edmonds.
Today, providing evidence to refute the legitimacy of state secrets in court remains difficult, because, as we've mentioned, the evidence, itself, is often deemed secret.
Allowing essential facts surrounding issues to be kept secret or classified opens the door to cover-ups and promulgating fake stories.
This was alleged in the Jessica Lynch (Iraq War) and Pat Tillman (Afghanistan War) cases where facts were suppressed until the real stories eventually surfaced.
However, sometimes the "real story" is successfully kept from the public in the name of state secrets when the real reason (if leaked) would simply be an embarrassment to the military or the Washington administration.
A major issue here is that the threat or possibility of legal reprisal for exposing is government corruption and malfeasance now keeps people from reporting it.
It is only when the story somehow breaks and becomes public knowledge, and then impossible for those in power to deny that things change.
However, the government is now using every means at it disposal to stop the media from exposing what they don't want the public to know.
We now know this has included hacking into computers at The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, and Fox News.