More Than Assange Are to Blame for WikiLeaks Damage

National security is compromised by poor handling of classified material.

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Indeed, there is a reasonable argument that the current administration's disclosure—contrary to the advice of four former CIA directors—of the specific details of the agency's highly classified interrogation program, as well as the failure (or inability) of the government to prosecute to those responsible for the disclosures of critically important post-9/11 intelligence collection programs, have encouraged a climate in which leakers of other highly sensitive national security information—including Mr. Assange and his colleagues—may feel justified (and perhaps even inoculated) in their actions.

All of this leads to at least a few basic conclusions about the way that the government and the media handle classified material and its disclosure. First, there is a substantial benefit to the national security when the government actively investigates and aggressively prosecutes leaks of classified information—and it should do so here. Second, by ensuring only appropriate material is classified, the government itself can help ensure that at least one quasi-"moral" justification for disclosure is unavailable to leakers. Third, government officials should tread extremely carefully when considering the declassification of highly sensitive national security information and only declassify such information when it actually beneficial to the national interest (not simply when politically expedient). And fourth, major media outlets (particularly those in the United States) need to carefully consider the impact of their own actions in creating a culture where the disclosure of properly classified information is not only accepted, but is viewed (incorrectly) by some as a badge of honor. One only hopes that the serious impact of the recent disclosures on our nation's warfighting, intelligence, and diplomatic efforts will at least move the needle for some (if not all) of the parties involved and encourage them to change their approach to the handling of classified material.

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