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Leaks can be for good or evil

Hacking and “leaking” have become major news items. Are the leaks good or bad?  The answer depends on the nature of the leak. Are the leaks exposing crimes or covering them up? Are they for or against the public good?

Following are some famous leaks or disclosures that have done good.

Beginning in 1969, Daniel Ellsberg started xeroxing the Vietnam war analysis known as the Pentagon Papers. Two years later the secret documents were finally ready and published for the first time. This disclosure of classified information allowed the public to learn about the reality of what was going on in Vietnam in contrast to the rosy government and military assessments. It was revealed that four U.S. administrations starting with Truman had misled the public and lied about their real intentions and military actions from undermining the 1954 Geneva settlement to secretly bombing Cambodia. The Pentagon Papers led many more Americans to oppose the war and hastened its end.

In 1975 former CIA agent Philip Agee published his book “Inside the Company: CIA Diary”. Patrick Breslin of the Washington Post described the book this way: “In this book Agee has provided the most complete description yet of what the CIA does abroad. In entry after numbing entry, U.S. foreign policy in Latin America is pictured as a web of deceit, hypocrisy and corruption.” Agee identified corrupt politicians plus American and foreign CIA operatives throughout Latin America. His expose greatly reduced CIA powers of influence and probably saved many thousands of lives.

In 1984 former CIA Director of the Angola Task Force, John Stockwell, published his book “In Search of Enemies”.  He documented how the CIA had trained, armed and otherwise funded a ‘rebel’ group to wage war in Angola ultimately leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths. Stockwell described how the CIA spread disinformation as part of the ‘information war’. Stockwell’s expose made it more difficult for the CIA to continue this kind of deceit, at least for some years.

In 2010 Chelsea Manning leaked files revealing more war crimes and government deception. He copied the Afghanistan and Iraq war logs as well as video, then passed on these files to Wikileaks.  One of the videos, named “Collateral Murder”, shows US soldiers in an Apache helicopter attacking and killing two Reuters cameramen along with ten other civilians in Iraq. Manning went to prison while the soldiers who carried out the murder have never been tried let alone convicted. The war logs and videos confirmed what many had suspected: in its war against Iraqi insurgents, the US was indiscriminately killing civilians.

Edward Snowden is perhaps the most well known modern “leaker”.  He copied files from the NSA computer system onto flash drives then made that public. The files confirmed that NSA was spying on foreign leaders including allies like Germany’s Angela Merkel. They showed how the NSA was collecting data on the computer and phone communications of nearly all American citizens. The revelations exposed that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had lied under oath to Congress when he testified before Congress two months earlier. The leaks by Snowden exposed NSA violations of the US Constitution regarding right to privacy. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that Snowden performed a “public service”.

Finally, in July 2016, emails from the Democratic National Committee were leaked to the public. They revealed that DNC leadership was deeply biased in favor of Hillary Clinton, providing her with advantages and preventing a fair primary election race. The emails substantiated the criticisms which the Sanders campaign had been making for some time.

From a progressive perspective, all the above “leaks” and disclosures were good. They exposed lies, crimes and corruption. 

But leaks can also be used for evil purposes. One example is how the CIA agent Valerie Plame was “outed” in 2003. Her identity as a clandestine CIA officer was leaked to Robert Novak who published the information in the Washington Post. The disclosure came from the Scooter Libby who worked closely with Vice President Dick Cheney. Plame’s career at the CIA was publicly exposed to punish her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson after he went to Central Africa and disproved the Bush Administration’s claims about yellow cake uranium going to Iraq to make weapons of mass destruction. The administration leaked the information about Wilson’s wife to retaliate and send a warning to others: If you cross us, you will pay a price. In this case the “leak” came from the Vice President’s office with the intention of stopping those who might expose the Administration’s lies to justify the war on Iraq.

In the past 8 months, leaks of the DNC and John Podesta emails have been used to foster an anti-Russia hysteria. Despite the fact that Wikileaks claims they did not receive the emails from Russian sources, the Democratic leadership and their acolytes have amplified this accusation to the point that it has become one of their main themes. This has served multiple goals: deflecting attention from the content of the leaks, blaming the subsequent election loss on a foreign power and reinforcing the neoconservative goal of demonizing Russia and blocking attempts to de-escalate the Cold War or give up on U.S. unilateral supremacy.

Currently there are many leaks occurring in the Trump administration.  The leaks appear to be coming from the Security Services themselves.  President Trump’s private phone conversations with other foreign leaders quickly became public.  Then, a December phone conversation between incoming National Security Director Mike Flynn and the Russian ambassador was revealed …though not the actual content. This led to a storm of insinuations that ultimately led to Flynn’s resignation.  There is nothing unusual or wrong with an incoming top official meeting with the ambassador from any country to gauge the relationship and challenges. But it led to Flynn’s departure when it was revealed that he had not accurately informed the Vice President. What is going on? It’s unclear what the offense was. James Clapper lied under oath to Congress and continued without pause. The Flynn case was treated very differently.  Some believe there is a concerted effort by the CIA and other security services to undermine Trump’s goal of reducing tensions with Russia. 

Former candidate for President and Ohio Congressman Denis Kucinich has said:

“General Flynn has admitted  misleading the Vice President but I think we need to look at this a little bit deeper. A phone call from the incoming national security director was intercepted and the contents given to the media …. at the core of this is an effort by some in the intelligence community to upend a positive relationship between the U.S. and Russia…. There are people trying to separate the U.S. and Russia so that the military industrial and intelligence axis can cash in…. The American people need to know that there’s a game going on inside the intelligence community there are those who …want to reignite the cold war. That’s what’s at the bottom of all this …Wake Up America!”

Trump’s policies on education, health care, environmental protection, immigration and law enforcement are horrible from a progressive perspective.  But Trump campaigned for stopping the “regime change” foreign policy championed by neoconservatives and the CIA. He called for reducing conflict with Russia and working together to combat terrorists trying to overthrow Syrian government. This policy in favor of peace is apparently being undermined from within by elements in the secret services. They seem to be the ones doing the leaking and it’s not for the public good.

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist. He lives in the SF Bay Area and can be contacted at [email protected]

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