Leaks, Whistleblowers, and Spies

Snowden and ManningThe Leaking Problem

It seems that breaches in American security are more commonplace as of late.  Just when we stopped hearing about Edward Snowden for a few days, United States Army soldier, Bradley Manning, is back in the news for his role in leaking classified information.   In July of this year Manning was convicted of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified military documents to WikiLeaks.  He was acquitted of Aiding the Enemy, which would have carried a life sentence.  Now, Manning will spend up to 35 years in prison for violating the Espionage Act.  Manning could have received a 90-year sentence and the government argued for at least 60 years.  Manning will need to spend at least 10 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.  He has been credited with 1,294 days of time served.  That is the synopsis of Bradley Manning’s sentence.


There was really no disagreement about Manning’s culpability in the leaks.  Manning’s defense team took a “who-done-it?” and made it a case of “why was it done?”.  His lawyers argued that Manning was a young and idealistic soldier who was trying to change the world.  He believed he was helping people and not hurting anyone.  It is difficult to determine how much damage was actually done by Manning.  To be sure, by volume it was one of the largest leaks of classified military documents in history.  Some analysts believe that most of what Manning leaked was day-to-day operational documents.

Whistleblowers vs. Spies

Whistleblowing, and the protection of those who blow the whistle, is necessary in a democracy.  The problem many whistleblowers confront is that cannot trust those who they are blowing the whistle on.  Frequently, whistleblowers must report directly to their supervisor, who may be part of the problem.  The recent IRS scandal is a good example of this.  There are still stories of people wanting to come forward with information on the attacks in Benghazi; but these people are being denied permission and protection.  Whistleblower protection must be clear and accessible.  It must allow the person willing to risk his career to feel secure that someone will listen to the information and that someone will investigate the allegations.

Whistleblowers are generally different than spies, like Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen. In the Ames and Hanssen information was not leaked with the intention of improving democracy or protecting the American people.  Hanssen and Ames sold classified information for the purpose monetary gain and certainly put American lives in danger. There was no virtue in their actions.

Where Do You Stand?

Some have viewed Manning as a whistleblower who was acting with honest intent.  Others have viewed him as a traitor who put American lives in jeopardy.   In this case I find it very difficult to view Manning as a whistleblower.  Turning over 700,000 classified military documents is not an act of whistleblowing in my opinion.   A whistleblower generally reports on specific activities or practices that he or she finds to be objectionable and contrary to a democratic society.  Manning leaked a massive amount of documents.  He should have sought alternative avenues through which he could have voiced his concerns.

Unfortunately, every several days we learn in greater detail the extent to which the NSA has been spying on, and retaining the private information, of American citizens.  With the advancements in technology and the growth in governmental power, it is crucial that we take whistleblowing seriously.  Otherwise, government may go totally unchecked.

Wayne Bradley · Conservative is Cool · Blog · Interviews · Digital Marketing · Donate