Ever since the First Continental Congress, the government has been dealing with leaks of classified information. In fact, the first president of the Congress, Henry Laurens, and the secretary to the foreign affairs committee, Thomas Paine, were forced to resign their offices because secret correspondence was published in Philadelphia newspapers.
Now the defense department is proposing new regulations to both prevent leaks, and to monitor the media for publication of classified information.
Let’s be very clear here: it is the job of government employees to protect classified information. And if a government worker has signed a non-disclosure agreement, then they are subject to dismissal if they release such information.
At the same time, it is the role of reporters to keep a check on government, policy formation, fraud, waste and abuse. And sometimes that checking function can only be carried out through leaks of classified information.
No one is suggesting that reporters should be engaged in the wholesale leaking of classified information that causes damage to the nation. But if history has taught us anything, it is that government claims of damage have proven unfounded.
Secret information was disclosed during the Revolutionary War and the Spanish-American War, all the way through Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The information has dealt with diplomacy, the military and all kinds of public and private research. And apparently there has been no serious damage to the nation.
Now I’m sure there are people who are going to say reporters who publish classified information should be arrested. But these reporters probably haven’t broken any laws, so no is sure how they would be charged.
For hundreds of years we’ve been asking, who guards the guardians? And for hundreds of years, no one has found a satisfactory answer.