Will a wave of leakers undercut America’s national security?

Summary: Will hordes of Americans working for security services become leakers, undercutting the government’s wall of secrecy and endangering national security? Many national security experts worry about this. Before we attempt an answer, let’s examine why people become leakers — and who becomes leakers.


Why aren't there more leakers?
Why aren’t there more whistleblowers?

Why become a leaker?

Two of the most prominent recent leakers are of Generation X: Bradley Manning (born 1987) and Edward Snowden (born 1983). They grew up hearing stories about the civil disobedience of the 1960s and 1970s. That turned out well for many of the perps.

  • Angela Davis became a Professor at UC Santa Clara
  • Bill Ayers became Professor of Education at U-IL Chicago.
  • Abbie Hoffman and Daniel Ellsberg became famous
  • Mark Felt (aka Deep Throat) had a successful career in the FBI (eventually busted for violating civil rights)

To many people growing up with these stories, they are heroes. And they (many of them) escaped with few ill consequences. But these Generation X misunderstand this history. These deeds were done by Boomers against the Greatest Generation. In famous trials, such as the Chicago Seven (18 February 1970), juries of the Greatest Generation showed them mercy and understanding.

But the Gen X goes up against hanging juries of the Boomers, who show neither mercy or understanding — but only deference to the government, no matter how outlandish the lies. Bradley Manning was abused in jail for two years before his court martial, and can expect a long sentence. Boomer President Obama has dusted off the Espionage Act of 1917 to prosecute leakers, who he fiercely prosecutes.

Considering the trend, the increasing efforts to locate and severely punish leakers, the romance associated with this form of civil disobedience will soon wear off. Only the bravest will risk it.


Given the massive crackdowns by our security services on the Occupy Movement, I suspect that mass civil disobedience will remain a needless fear of our governing classes — until some future day when the embers of liberty find suitable tinder.

Update: Daniel Ellsberg has a similar view of now vs then: “Snowden made the right call when he fled the U.S.“, op-ed in the Washington Post, 7 July 2013

Boomer justice
Boomer justice

Who leaks?

Outcast, oddities. Hence the fascination with the personal lives of Manning and Snowden. And the incessant mockery of them by courtiers like Michael Cohen and Steven Metz. Why don’t dozens, hundreds, or thousands of nice stable organization men throw away their families and careers to illegally release vital information to an uncaring American public?

It a mystery of our time, pondered by fools.

Meanwhile government lackies focus our attention on the personal eccentricities of the brave but often somewhat strange people who sacrifice themselves to bring us knowledge.

For More Information

Posts about surveillance by the government:

  1. Attention fellow sheep: let’s open our eyes and see the walls of our pen, 2009 — Five years ago these programs, and their growth, were easily visible. We just didn’t want to see.
  2. The NSA news might be a birthday for the New America!, 7 June 2013
  3. The US government spies on us because America is a democracy, 8 June 2013
  4. Our opinion leaders defend the government’s surveillance programs, 10 June 2013
  5. The government says “We do not have ‘direct’ access to your info …”, 11 June 2013
  6. Someone call Nixon’s plumbers. We need them again., 13 June 2013
  7. The Empire Strikes Back: The Demonization of Snowden Begins, 15 June 2013
  8. America’s courtiers rush to defend the government – from us, 22 June 2013
  9. Thoreau reminds us about one of the few tools we have to control the government, 24 June 2013
  10. Warning from a whistleblower about the results of not protecting whistleblowers, 26 June 2013



32 thoughts on “Will a wave of leakers undercut America’s national security?”

  1. the role of the whistleblower seems related to the joke and nonsense.. a significant dilemma is that the systems that are being blown on must be maintained and nurtured for they are as natural as being able to go in your backyard and turn over a rock to look at the worms underneath…integral in the development of healthy curious human beings the newly apparent antagonisms that we do not have handles for are related to intellectual property as private property. we have no way to spark these little miracles in the minds without leading to unintended and increasingly conflicted consequences. the conflicts occurring at this time are drawing a void
    opening up before us…so we are fantastically borrowing from the void
    rather than our imaginary future

    also it appears that we now have a sliding sort of stateless generation of
    young people that lack the ability to self organize for periods beyond their
    lifespans yet painfully cannot be reinserted…if we just let them cut in front
    of the line effortlessly they will simply walk away under the current paradigm

    perhaps take a gander at Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious

  2. Oh, sure, blame the Boomers for this, too.

    The reason why the protesters survived and flourished were because their peers AND their parents KNEW they were right. And not all of them survived, or prospered….only a lucky few. HOWEVER:

    The newspapers of that day didn’t serve as arms of the Ministry of Propaganda then, twisting every story into TERROR, TERROR, TERROR. And it was tried, most sincerely! McCarthyism was still rampant at the beginning…Vietnam and Watergate finally killed it.

    The facts were available to the People for 10 cents a day in the papers, for free on the radio and in the nightly TV news reports….the bloated kill numbers of the “enemy”, the actual numbers of the PSTD soldiers returning, the reports from the grunts on how they wished they’d had the good sense to flee to Canada or Sweden…word got around. And we had news anchors of character: Rather, Cronkite, etc. who knew whereof they spoke. They were not mouthpieces, they were observers with a grounding in history, skepticism, politics and logic.

    Of course, these were middle-class, involuntary draftee soldiers…not poverty-stricken “volunteers” who otherwise would starve on the streets of this great nation. They were brutalized, and they knew it, and they didn’t think they deserved it. Which they didn’t.

    I lost an uncle to that war. My kids are Generation X. Obama is a bought and paid for traitor to his nation, its people and its Constitution. I’ll insist that Obama swings before any of our children do.

    1. Furthermore:

      The title of this article has nothing to do with the body of the article. Reports are that in fact none of this has done anything to damage “national security”, but it has definitely undermined the government’s conspiracy to totally subvert the Constitution and enslave the People in a Fascist state…

      1. Please re-read the title, slowly and carefully. Then read the statements by government officials and their supporters.

        Last, note that the title is a question.

      2. Based on Demeter’s comment I added an sentence to the summary:

        Will hordes of Americans working for security services become leakers, undercutting the government’s wall of secrecy and endangering national security? Many national security experts worry about this. Before we attempt an answer, let’s examine why people become leakers — and who becomes leakers.

        In other words, rather than engage in the debate about the national security implication of conectural future hordes of leakers, let’s assess the odds of many more people becoming leakers. The supply of such brave motivated people is probably small. The massive government efforts to quickly detect and severely punish leaders are designed to make that certain.

    2. remember the sense of loss is a symptom of the process of sentimentality towards imagined past events…not the inverse as you display in your comment. the fall can ONLY be seen in retrospect.

      the sense of persecution that can arise when attempting to understand a perceived trauma is symptomatic
      you can see this in the famous Wolfsman:

      additionally, the whistleblower in 2013 exhibits some aspects of the sacred clown in emasculated form:

    3. On re-reading Demeter’s account, I am unclear as to the nature of his objection.

      Daniel Ellsberg was an icon of the Vietnam War era; born in 1931 he was of the post-WW2 generation but pre-boomer. He appears to agree with this post about the differences between then and now: “Snowden made the right call when he fled the U.S.“, op-ed in the Washington Post, 7 July 2013 — Excerpt:

      I was, like Snowden now, a “fugitive from justice.” Yet when I surrendered to arrest in Boston, having given out my last copies of the papers the night before, I was released on personal recognizance bond the same day. Later, when my charges were increased from the original 3 counts to 12, carrying a possible 115-year sentence, my bond was increased to $50,000. But for the whole two years I was under indictment, I was free to speak to the media and at rallies and public lectures. I was, after all, part of a movement against an ongoing war. Helping to end that war was my preeminent concern. I couldn’t have done that abroad, and leaving the country never entered my mind.

      There is no chance that experience could be reproduced today, let alone that a trial could be terminated by the revelation of White House actions against a defendant that were clearly criminal in Richard Nixon’s era — and figured in his resignation in the face of impeachment — but are today all regarded as legal (including an attempt to “incapacitate me totally”).

      I hope Snowden’s revelations will spark a movement to rescue our democracy, but he could not be part of that movement had he stayed here. There is zero chance that he would be allowed out on bail if he returned now and close to no chance that, had he not left the country, he would have been granted bail. Instead, he would be in a prison cell like Bradley Manning, incommunicado.

      He would almost certainly be confined in total isolation, even longer than the more than eight months Manning suffered during his three years of imprisonment before his trial began recently. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Torture described Manning’s conditions as “cruel, inhuman and degrading.”

    1. Good point. I don’t know who defines such terms. I took the easy way and used Wikipedia:

      Generation X, commonly abbreviated to Gen X, is the generation born after the Western Post–World War II baby boom. Demographers, historians and commentators use beginning birth dates from the early 1960s to the early 1980s. The term was popularized by Douglas Coupland’s 1991 novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. Before that, it had been used for various subcultures or countercultures after the 1950s.

    1. I mention him in the post: deep throat was Mark Felt, #2 in the FBI. Retired at age 60, conflict with the new Director of the FBI.

      I added a note that Felt was Deep Throat.

  3. Duncan Kinder

    Perhaps historian Robert Darnton’s accounts of subversive 18th Century French literature can help us now:

    See, eg: he Literary Underground of the Old Regime (Amazon)

    This well written book is a set of linked essays on the literary underground of pre-Revolutionary France. Darnton was fortunate to discover a treasure trove of archival materials in the form of business records and correspondence of a major 18th century Swiss publisher producing for the French Market. The French book market was controlled by a combination of government censorship and the activities of Parisian publishers/booksellers who enjoyed semi-monopoly privileges.

    Darnton describes the activities of the clandestine book trade including the difficult life of the Grub Street hack who wrote much of the published material through the actual and often difficult mechanics of smuggling proscribed books into France and selling them.

    Cumulatively, these essays paint a vivid picture of pre-Revolutionary France; a nation where the government tried, with variable success, to control the press, where there was a consistent market for tracts attacking the monarchy and aristocracy, and where a marginal living could be made by individuals committed to some forms of the Enlightenment critiques of the Ancien Regime.

    Beyond exposing an interesting aspect of 18th century French social history, Darnton’s work leads to some generally interesting points. Much of what was retailed, and presumably read, was not the major works of the Enlightenment philosophes, but rather a mixture of scurrilous political attacks, semi-pornographic tracts, and popular fiction. Much of this work, however negligible its literary or intellectual merit, had the effect of discrediting the monarchy and aristocracy, and particularly the whole notion of privileged orders of society. While often presented in vulgar and actually libelous forms, this literature probably contributed greatly to the erosion of the legitimacy of the Ancien Regime.

    Darnton shows also that a number of the leaders of the early Revolution emerged, including individuals like Brissot and Marat, emerged from the literary underground. Their relatively primitive ideology was formed in this milieu and their experience as marginal figures in French life contributed greatly to their hatred of the Ancien Regime and their zeal to destroy the established orders of society.

  4. Interesting to describe this issue in generational terms.
    It’s deceptively simple to generalize the civic and political tendencies of an entire demographic group.
    Still, that’s often the way things change in civics and politics, when the old guard dies or retires, and the next generation takes over.
    One note: the two leakers meantioned are members of Generation Y, aka the Millenial Generation, commonly defined as those born approximately between 1980 and 2000. Although this generation is commonly described only in terms of their parents, the demographic group is actually larger than the Boomer Generation.
    I’m a member of Gen Y. Speaking as such, I can say that many of us blame the Boomers (our parents) for the state of the country today, and many of us are looking forward to the eventual changing of the guards.

    1. I believe the original idea was that there was a substantial difference between the boomers and those that followed, greater than the differences between the generations that followed.

      I believe, from what little I’ve read on this, that subsequent research has validated that original theory. Hence assigning the the cuuevt leakers to a specific post-boomer cohort does not materially affect the point made by this post.

      In fact, IMO it detracts from it. Which is perhaps the point. It is a bleak message, and a defining characteristic of America today is an unwillingness to look at bleak messages — I stead adopting measures to shift the responsibility elsewhere.

    2. “It’s deceptively simple to generalize the civic and political tendencies of an entire demographic group.”

      I disagree. It is the aggregate behavior that matters in this context, not he range of individual behaviors. And the aggregate is often easy to see.

      To use a bad metaphor, following an individual fish in a school is difficult. The course of the school is easier.

  5. Pingback: Bradley Manning / Wikileaks Newslinks 8 July 2013 | William Bowles.info

  6. I’m not sure I agree with your ‘school of fish’ metaphor. At the end of the trip, every fish gets to the destination where everyone (collectively) wants to be. Not true for schools of humans. Take a designation such are Red state/Blue state. This is an artificial (and intellectually unhelpful) dichotomy. Does that mean that everyone in Texas really wants to vote traditional republican, whereas everyone in Massachusetts subconsciously wants to vote democratic? No. Every state is a purple state with a percentage of the population inclined one way, a percentage inclined the other and the remainder with even different (or no) inclinations. What matters is arithmetic and perception (propaganda.) Even the designations: Red State/Blue State, predefine the possible answers.

    Likewise, characterizing a whole generation one way is intellectually lazy and misses the point. It is not that Boomers were more or less enlightened than other generations, before or after. The people who lived at that time were influenced by the events of that time; filtered through the individual experiences, education, prejudices and beliefs of those people; to produce a galaxy of opinions and responses. After all, who decided that boomers were born between 1946 and 1964? The same person who made up Red State/Blue State? That sounds too clever to be something real. It’s a convenient handle to attach to a chaotic group of people for the purpose of classification.

    I’ve been working on a thought experiment to illustrate this. Imagine a table scattered with random objects: A ball of string, a dictionary, watch, hammer, coffee cup, cough drops, etc. Now, take a frame that fits over the table top. Imagine that the frame is divided into squares such that, when you place the frame on the table, it encloses the objects thereon into different chambers, like an egg crate with the bottom cut out or an ice cube tray divider.

    Now ask someone to look at the objects on the table and think of some characteristic to describe the objects he sees in each compartment. He might see one square with a red ball, a watch and a coffee cup. “These things are all round,” he might say. Another square might contain an apple, a juice cup and some cherry cough drops. “Easy,” he says. “These things are related to fruit.

    Now, take the frame, lift it up and turn it 45 degrees. Place it back on the table. Ask the same question of someone else. Let’s say the apple, ball and cough drops are now in the same compartment. “These things are red,” she might say. The dictionary, watch and string might cause her to think of “things that measure or record.” And etcetera. Repeat the experiment and get different results from the same objects and probably the same people.

    The way we choose to group things determines how we interpret them. Propaganda is the art of forcing people to group persons, events and concepts together in the propagandist’s preferred way. So, for instance, Barrack O’Bama (person), social programs (events) and Socialism (concept) get grouped together by people like Glen Beck or Bill O’Reilly; Socialism having already been grouped with several other disagreeable concepts. In the mind of the propagandized party, these things are welded together until they become a single thing that can’t easily be teased apart. Note that this is done even before any discussion starts. The fields have been salted already. It’s easy, convenient, readily understandable, even intuitive and dead wrong. Discernment is the untidy task of untangling this mass of weeds and rinsing out the salt, which is hard work and requires thought. Sadly, our culture, going back a long way before the 60’s, has been taught to take the intellectually easy road most of the time.


    1. what you describe can be seen in this painting

      “The Ambassadors” by Hans Holbein the Younger:
      [caption id="attachment_52355" align="alignright" width="600"]"The Ambassadors" by Hans Holbein the Younger “The Ambassadors” by Hans Holbein the Younger[/caption]

    2. you must remember that time is the fourth dimension. time is an illusion. it is simply an arbitrary index to mark changes in the way you feel. the omnipotence of your thoughts gives you a forward moving feeling and produces the arrow of time.

    3. Metaphors are slippery things, like fish!

      I’m not sure I agree with your ‘school of fish’ metaphor. At the end of the trip, every fish gets to the destination where everyone (collectively) wants to be. Not true for schools of humans.

      Your point is, of course, valid — but not the one I was making with this metaphor. By focusing on the aggregate outcome of a group, I pointed to the fact that the net result of individual actions is a result for the community that we all share — no matter how we feel about the result.

      That result is the key for this kind of sociological analysis.

    4. “After all, who decided that boomers were born between 1946 and 1964? The same person who made up Red State/Blue State?”

      No, the Census Bureau. Subsequent sociology research has shown this to be a valid disciminator in terms of useful criteria.

  7. The Obama administration MIGHT have a surprise coming (or maybe they don’t!)

    Manning could be abused to some degree because he was in the military.
    There you are owned by Uncle Sam. Legal slavery almost.

    Snowden will be tried not by judges under the Commander in Chief but by 12 civilians any one of whom could be more interested in the future of the Constitution than in vengeance for the NSA’s unconstitutional behavior.

    This hope grows dim if they can find 12 people who legitimately say they know nothing of the Snowden case. They might be just mindless enough to do the NSA’s bidding and swallow BS by the ladle.

    Two words essential to our country’s future: “Jury Nullification”. The Founding fathers saw this day coming and the right to a trial by jury is the last bulwark. When we are deemed “unlawful combatants” by the next Cheney-like president (assuming Obama is not one).and therefore we all get tried in a military court, the remainder of the 2nd amendment may be all we have.

    I’d suggest that the routine suspension of the trial by jury be justification for armed overthrow of the US government to be replaced by an identical one that obeys the 2013 Constitution. This likely involves removal from office of the existing Congress.

    Maybe keep Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders Maybe.

    1. Why I agree in concept, the reality is that juries in the US tend convict anyone the government says helps terrorists, no matter how dubious the evidence — with exceptions for some affinity to the defendant. Regional, ethnic, etc.

      Otherwise obedient sheep.

      1. Grand juries are even more obedient to their masters. As Sol Wachter (former chief justice of NY’s highest court) said, prosecutors have so much control over grand juries that they can get them to “indict a ham sandwich.”

  8. “No, the Census Bureau. Subsequent sociology research has shown this to be a valid disciminator in terms of useful criteria”

    Good point, though I notice that Census Bureau reports for public consumption use terms like ‘…commonly referred to as the Baby Boom…’ and put “Baby Boomers” in quotes. I think they may simply be borrowing a commonly used term for their own purposes. (Think Mark Twain’s ‘Gilded Age’ which is, interestingly, like our ‘One Percent.’) This illustrates my point. People use labels for one, possibly useful purpose and then other people subsequently reuse them to mean something else entirely. Human brains like pictures better than prose.

    Again, discriminators can be useful criteria as long as you use them as intended. My point is that it is too easy to misapply or even be straight jacketed by an intellectual tool such as categorization. Generalization leads to prejudice and misunderstanding, ultimately causing people to disregard new information that may contradict their classification. As long as you keep reminding yourself that your ‘useful criteria’ represent only one interpretation of the data according to one set of assumptions, it can be useful. Or it can be cherry picking.

    Thank you for the interesting topic.


    1. Jon,

      I share your concerns about over-use and mis-use of generalizations and abstractions. Unfortunately these tools are essential for analysis. Like most sharp tools, they can be misused.

      As for the “baby boom”, Census reports during the past few years refer to the Baby Boom without quotes or qualifications, as a demographic category. Per Wikipedia, the Oxford English Dictionary shows first use of the term in a 1970 Washington Post article. I can look up the exact cite & details if you’re interested.

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