Who’s leaking more: Snowden or the government condemning him?

Somehow, we've been given a lot of private information about Edward Snowden since the investigation into him began

Topics: Edward Snowden, Leaks, Whistleblowers, NSA, James "Hoss" Cartwright, Barack Obama, Classified information, George Orwell, CIA, John Brennan, Media Criticism, ,

Who's leaking more: Snowden or the government condemning him? (Credit: Reuters/Bobby Yip)
This story was originally posted on the Freedom of the Press Foundation web site.

In the month since the Guardian first started reporting on the surveillance documents provided by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the government has taken to the media to condemn his leaks and insist he is flagrantly violating the law. To prove this, the government has been incessantly leaking information itself.

Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone extensively detailed this week’s NSA media counteroffensive against Snowden, as officials have tried to explain — anonymously and without real proof — that Snowden’s leaks have hurt national security. On Wednesday, intelligence officials described to ABC News, Washington Post, Reuters and AP how terrorists are allegedly “changing their tactics” now that they’ve been tipped off that the U.S. is monitoring the Internet.

Essentially, the government leaked a bunch of classified information in an attempt to prove leaking classified information is dangerous.

In addition, unnamed government sources alleged in the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN that both China and Russia drained Snowden’s computers, without any evidence they had done so. As Calderone noted, “it’s possible that officials may be proven correct, and that the leaked NSA documents did fall into the hands of foreign governments. But … there’s no evidence he has willingly or unwillingly provided all the documents obtained to the Chinese and Russians.”

But it hasn’t just been the last few days; the government has been consistently leaking information about Snowden since the very start of the investigation into him. Last Friday, the Washington Post reported the paper had obtained the sealed criminal complaint against Edward Snowden, charging him with two counts under the Espionage Act and one count of stealing government property. As the Post reported, it was not until after the complaint was leaked that the Justice Department decided to officially unseal it.

On Sunday, the Associated Press reported that the U.S. had revoked Snowden’s passport, which it had learned through unnamed sources in the government. By Monday, as USA Today reported, “Numerous government officials have said on background that Edward Snowden’s passport has been revoked, but no one will confirm it on the record.” Why couldn’t they say anything officially? Because it was prohibited by the the Privacy Act.

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And when it was revealed which contractor gave Snowden a background check, the company told Reuters it could not comment because it “was a confidential matter under investigation.” But that didn’t stop someone from leaking information anonymously to insinuate Snowden lied on his résumé to get his job.

The government’s own leaks come in the wake of a recent report from McClatchy newspapers detailing the Obama administration’s disturbing “Insider Threat” program, which supposedly views all leaks akin to aiding the enemy. This program, and its dangerous culture, has bled into agencies that don’t even deal with classified information, including the Department of Education, Department of Agriculture and Peace Corps.

To paraphrase George Orwell, all leaks are equal, but apparently some leaks are more equal than others.

Perhaps in response to the Obama administration policy, new CIA director John Brennan (a notorious leaker himself) wrote a memo calling for a further crackdown on leaks within the CIA. On Wednesday, the memo leaked to the Associated Press. A day later, the CIA leaked details of its response to a critical 6,000-page classified Senate report on CIA torture, before giving any information on its response to the Senate Intelligence Committee, as is required by law.

On Thursday night, NBC News reported that retired Gen. James Cartwright is the prime suspect in the leak investigation regarding the New York Times report on the Stuxnet virus. How do we know that? A leak.

Trevor Timm is the co-founder and executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation.

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