EDITORIAL: Our Plumber-in-Chief

By: E&P Staff

According to Newsweek reporter Jonathan Alter’s book, The Promise: President Obama, Year One, Barack Obama personally finds unauthorized leaks of government information deeply offensive, explaining his near-Nixonian obsession with discovering the sources of leaks.
 
Remarkably, the candidate who was a champion of government transparency on the campaign trail now leads an administration that has already prosecuted more suspected leakers of classified information than any other presidency in history. By hunting so furiously and prosecuting so zealously for those who disclose information to journalists, such as The New York Times’ James Risen — who has now been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury by both the Bush and Obama Justice Departments — this White House is send a not-so-subtle message: Dummy up, everybody — even if what you’re keeping secret is information American citizens should know.
 
The latest target is Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old Army specialist who is accused of leaking video of a 2007 helicopter strike that killed civilians and two journalists — and, as this is written, is a suspect in what the Obama White House apparently regards as the most infuriating leak of all, the so-called Afghanistan War Logs, more than 92,000 documents obtained by WikiLeaks with many published by the Times here, the Guardian in Britain and Der Spiegel in Germany.
 
We’ll leave it to others and history to decide whether this young soldier should have violated his oath to safeguard classified information. What’s immediately clear, though, is that the overwhelming majority of these documents should never have been classified in the first place, and none of the information published by the newspapers endangered any American or Afghan lives.
 
Equally clear is that the public that is funding these wars — and sending their sons and daughters in harm’s way to fight them — deserve this information.
 
Should the public know that Iran and Pakistan, in separate and concerted way, are suspected of supporting insurgents by U.S. intelligence? Should we know the true circumstances that left civilians dead after military action? Should they know the Taliban has more sophisticated weapons than the military has let on? Yes, yes and of course.
 
If the Pentagon saved its “Classified” stamp for information that truly is sensitive — where lives and missions really were at stake — it would surely have little or no leaks. Instead, it encourages leaks by so routinely declare as “secret” information that is simply potentially embarrassing to the military or civilian leadership or has more to do with public policy debate than strategies and tactics on the ground.
 
Leaks, Jonathan Alter reports in his book, “offended Obama’s sense of discipline and reminded him of everything he disliked about the capital.” Such is the burden of leading a free people. Mr. President, please get back to being offended by Washington’s stubborn culture of secrecy, which you once vowed to change on day one of your administration.
 

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Published: September 1, 2010

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