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June 11, 2013

Leaks in the News; Plumber Needed?

At the top of today's news is the story that broke over the week-end about CIA contract employee Edward Snowden who confessed from his Hong Kong hotel room on Sunday that he deliberately leaked large amounts of classified information to the press while working- not for the Agency itself, but for one of its many contractors.

It thus recalls the famous Pentagon Papers that tied President Nixon’s “plumbers” to two failed break-ins in the 70s: the first was at the famous Watergate complex in Washington. The other was an earlier effort on the West Coast to obtain confidential medical records from the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist after the ex-Marine and Vietnam veteran- then an employee of the Rand Corporation, “leaked” massive amounts of data his Rand job had made him privy to and reinforced his doubts about America’s growing involvement in Vietnam to a level he could no longer ignore.

The furor created by the release and publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, was huge, but sadly, its significance has apparently been forgotten by many; including most of the media and the present administration.

Happily, Daniel Ellsberg is still alive and has been quick to praise Snowden's act of conscience as "more important" than his own. He also gives credit to Bradley Manning who, because he was on active duty when he defied the government, has been subject to the same level of punishment that became routine at Guantanamo.

When one listens to Snowden’s account, one also realizes that he, Manning, and Ellsberg faced exactly the same dilemma: at what point do you stop compromising with blatant dishonesty? The major differences between them are attributable to the internet, which has compressed time while increasing the ease with which "classified" information can be acquired and disseminated. It may not seem that long since the 70s, but digital technology has reshaped the world. Ellsberg's access to information was through Xerox copiers, while Snowden, a high school drop-out and typical "geek," has obviously mastered contemporary IT to a considerable degree.

In that sense he closely resembles another forgotten man: Bradley Manning, whose defiance while in uniform has undoubtedly made his pre-trial confinement more akin to the treatment of those unfortunate enough to disappear into the American gulag at Guantanamo.

Ellsberg's disclosure was against the law in 1971, but the Department of Justice declined to prosecute him because of federal misconduct by Nixon's "plumbers."

Thankfully Daniel Ellsberg is still alive and very much on top of current developments.

Eerily like the Seventies, we also have a lawyer in the Oval Office. Although Obama smoked pot in High School and is well versed in Constitutional law; he has also used drones against civilians in one undeclared war in Asia and waffled repeatedly on another; thus I'm not that optimistic about Snowden's chances of avoiding prosecution.

In the meantime, Bradley Manning's trial begins at Fort Meade this week. The intensity and tenor of its media coverage will be an important indicator.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at June 11, 2013 10:47 PM