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Leaking info – who can do it and what happens?

by on March 6, 2013

In one of our recent readings, a New York Times article asks what Daniel Ellsberg would do with the Pentagon Papers today.  The article says that if someone had the papers today or the modern equivalent, would the person go to the press and wait for the documents to be fully analyzed and published? Or would that person simply post them online immediately?  These days, it is so much easier to make documents and other material public on the Internet.  While a journalist can easily post obtained classified information on his/her blog or other online medium – so can an ordinary citizen. If the right information falls into the right hands, the potentiality of exposure is limitless. This article made me wonder about the consequences of simply publishing without approval. Would a journalist or an average day citizen get in more trouble for posting the YouTube video about the helicopter killing in Baghdad? Are the consequences equal? Also after the brief group exercise we conducted in class today, an important question was mentioned – in terms of national security and leaking cables, how does one determine what should/shouldn’t be published for the sake of national security? If the government says “you will have blood on your hands” do you do it anyway? 

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4 Comments
  1. I think each situation is different, and each has different circumstances and consequences. Some information that someone categorizes as ‘harmless’ can be leaked based on the person and what they believe in. If people were to ask the government what they should and shouldn’t publish, theyl; get a similar answer of no. Ocourse, the government has its reasons for some of the more ‘harmful’ and potential consequences that put national security at risk; so to those items, i believe they are untouchable, just stay away from doing something that not only the government says is harmful, but what you actually believe is harmful. Another factor is someone’s motive or care for a certain subjects. Its sad to say it, but this country has a lot of people who only care about themselves, and will do crazy thing that may create a buzz or a story and in turn enhance their reputation. It all comes down to the type of person, and what he or she believes in.

  2. I think the internet makes publication much easier and much less reliable. If I saw leaked documents on the internet today, I probably would question how reliable those documents are. I am sure eventually someone who wants to publish those papers will, and when they do, they will be published online so that the documents can go viral very quickly. I don’t think it is fair for the government to threaten journalists out of publishing something by saying “you will have blood on your hands,” because we did not create the documents or do the activities recorded in the documents, but rather just reproduced the documents for the public to see. So long as the journalist did not create or steal the documents themselves, and instead were brought the papers, I don’t see any reason to blame or say that the publisher or journalist will have “blood on their hands” for revealing the documents to the public. Instead, if the government really doesn’t want their own nation to know what they are doing in order to protect them, then the government should not create the written documents in the first place.

  3. KiriMullen permalink

    I agree with Lindsay, it is unfair for the government to blame journalists, and say that they will have blood on their hands. However, I wouldn’t say that they shouldn’t be creating written documents – many of these documents must have been deemed necessary or else they wouldn’t have been created in the first place. Instead of the government blaming the journalists though, they should look more closely at what individuals they share these documents with. Clearly in the past they have trusted people whom they shouldn’t have. It is not the fault of the journalist for receiving this information, but rather the fault of the government for trusting people with documents including information about national security.

  4. Liz Sinclair permalink

    I agree that technological advances have made it easier for people to access information. The internet allows for a combination of ways in which people, including journalists as well as the general public, can learn information. I agree with Lindsay in that, leaked information may not have much credibility. As the internet allows for such a flow of information, how can one decide what is valid or not if no sources are provided? However, The Washington Post has published articles of crucial information without providing sources. The Post has a policy of anonymous sources; reporters are to allow anonymity only when “we (the Post) can give our readers better, fuller information by allowing sources to remain unnamed than if we insist on naming them.” The Post feels that the information is more significant to their reader than their sources. When publishing information without a source, they ask their readers to trust their credibility – their main obligation is their readers and not their sources. Although, this may be a bit off topic from leaked information, I feel that “leaked information” is in fact beneficial to the general public and they have the absolute right to know of such knowledge. If the public can find a publication, like The Washington Post, to trust, then leaked information in this sense, will be valid and credible.

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