Another federal leak case, but this one isn't like Plame

The government launches an investigation into who tipped off the papers to the NSA's secret eavesdropping plan. But let's keep in mind who the good guys are here.

By Farhad Manjoo
Published December 30, 2005 4:28PM (EST)

The Justice Department is launching an investigation into the disclosure of the existence of the NSA's program to eavesdrop on Americans' telephone calls and e-mail messages. At this point, details of the investigation are unknown, but if this thing goes anything like that other recent leak investigation, you can expect it to get quite messy -- reporters at the New York Times and elsewhere may once again face jail, and government officials, whether in Congress or the administration, may face tough questioning and also possible charges.

As the investigation unfolds, though, it'd be wise to remember one thing. Though Bush has called the leak of details of the NSA program "shameful," this leak was morally and ethically quite different from the leak of Valerie Plame's identity. In that case, someone in the Bush Administration was talking to reporters about Plame and her husband Joe Wilson in an effort to damage them; it was a scurrilous act, and the journalists who dealt with those officials weren't very easy to defend.

The eavesdropping leak, though, was just the opposite: The leakers here were disclosing something of vital interest to Americans. The journalists here were trying to get that story to the public. The real story here doesn't have to do with the press, or with the whistleblowers -- the real story is the Bush plan to wiretap Americans without legal oversight. As we go down the rabbit hole of another leak investigation, let's keep that in mind.

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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