To dispose of all the hot air lately about leaks – partisans on both sides declaring treason by leakers they don’t like, while giving a pass to leakers on their own teams – I will now help you understand whether a leak is good, bad, or just normal.
There are 3 kinds of leaks: whistleblower leaks (good), partisan leaks (business as usual), and abusive leaks (extraordinary and bad).
Whistleblower leaks are leaks of any government information, classified or not, that reveals improper or illegal conduct by the government that is being hidden from the public. The leaker may have to break a law in revealing their evidence of lawbreaking activity by others. Such whistleblower activity is fully justified and proportionate, and should be celebrated as a patriotic effort to defend the integrity of our government. It serves to enhance government transparency and accountability, two key requirements of good governance in the 21st century that we should absolutely demand of our government.
Partisan leaks are disclosures of unclassified government information for the purpose of tactical political advantage. While such leaks may not be admirable, they are utterly routine under any administration, and those who expend their breath deploring them are wasting their time and are most likely hypocrites who look the other way when their own guys do it. Everybody’s always done it, and everybody will continue to do it. It’s human nature, and it’s part of the mechanics of power. It’s just the way the game is played.
Abusive leaks are leaks intended to cover up or protect questionable or illegal activities by inflicting damage on political opponents. The key example is the attempt to damage the reputation of a whistleblower. Such leaks show a wretched disregard for both the law and the responsible limits of the political game. Worst of all are (highly unusual) leaks of classified government information for such purposes. This is the very definition of the abuse of power. If someone in your local government, or your workplace, or your posse, is exposed acting in like manner, you’ll say that person is a scumbag. Those who undertake such leaks have no place in the national leadership. They hurt our nation’s reputation and they damage the trust between the governed and their government.
Whistleblower leak: Joseph Wilson exposing Niger yellowcake uranium lies told by President Bush while he made the case for making war upon Iraq.
Partisan leak: too numerous to count. The cost of doing government business.
Abusive leak: Cheney, Rove, Libby, et al illegally exposing the classified identity of Joseph Wilson’s CIA operative wife in an effort at payback, undermining his story, and silencing similar voices.
So just remember: when you hear somebody spouting about a leak, refer to this handy guide and decide for yourself whether the speaker is correct, or just a windbag, or defending the indefensible.