This is why we are vetted so carefully

Certainly, the decision to engage in national security whistleblowing is a serious one that is not lightly made. A shortcoming of the current system is that national security whistleblowers who act within the system have few legal protections and are likely to face retaliation. The case of Thomas Drake comes to mind.

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There are ways to raise concerns without releasing classified information.


One can think of cases, however, where classified information needed to be made public in order to raise concerns. Daniel Ellsberg’s unauthorized release of the Pentagon Papers is a prominent example.

Ellsberg would have gone to jail, for up to 115 years for violations of the espionage act, had the government not improperly collected evidence against him (I believe that, among others things agents broke into his psychiatrist’s office.

It was the wrong way to affect the change that he wanted.

Again . . . The decision making process that Ellsberg’s release revealed wasn’t his to question.


I disagree. When one knows, for example, as Daniel Ellsberg did, that the U.S. government is lying to the American people, and that people are dying as a consequence, a strong case can be made that public disclosure of such information is in the public interest and is morally justified.

You are correct that Ellsberg could have gone to jail. The U.S. government’s illegal search of his psychiatrist’s office did indeed lead to the dismissal of criminal charges against him.

There is no way to justify what he or others do/did in leaking classified material.


Note that government officials routinely leak classified information to preferred reporters when it suits their interests. The only leaks that get investigated and prosecuted are the non-official ones.

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So, it remains that it wasn’t Ellsberg’s decision to make that these documents should be released in the way that they were. His was a criminal. He was opposed to the war and yet continued his job with Rand supporting the war. The documents he released showed that prior administrations, Kennedy and Johnson, had lied about the war. The primary lie was that they were applying sufficient effort to win the war while knowing that this wasn’t true. However, even that admission doesn’t prove that they believed the war to be unwinnable or not worth the effort. This is besides the fact that “lying to the American people” is a political issue, not a criminal one.

Ellsberg tried to get several senators to release the information and failed, likely because the senators recognized the risks of being associated with the release of classified material even if they couldn’t be prosecuted for it (a questionable issue.)

When you take on work like this, you very often give up something in exchange.


Those following the Daniel Hale case will be interested in the 2016 documentary, National Bird, which explores the U.S. government’s armed drone program. It is presently available on Netflix. Hale is one of three veterans extensively interviewed in the documentary, and during its production (in 2014), his home was raided by the FBI in connection with the investigation that led to his indictment in March.

The documentary may help in understanding the factors that led to Hale’s alleged decision to provide classified documents to a reporter.

There are no factors that justify Hale’s decision.


For security professionals, it is important to understand the factors that may motivate employees to leak classified information, whether or not one considers them to be justifying.

Yes . . . It’s important to understand motivations . . . It’s also important to understand other factors that indicate a higher or lower chance that someone will decide to release information. Things like appearing to be employing countermeasures during a polygraph?

The polygraph community has no reliable method for detecting polygraph countermeasures. Moreover, innocent behavior, like breathing slowly while trying to remain calm, is often characterized as attempted countermeasures. In general, polygraph operators’ opinions on countermeasure use (or lying) are not good indicators regarding an employee’s trustworthiness.

You are arguing both sides of the same point . . .

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Slow breathing is not a true countermeasure. It’s a normal response often exhibited by truthful persons attempting to remain calm in a stressful situation. It doesn’t mean the subject is lying and attempting to beat the “test.” In fact, a knowledgeable subject attempting to beat the polygraph would studiously avoid slow breathing. When polygraph operators classify such behavior as attempted countermeasures, they are taking a wild guess that is often wrong.

There is no evidence that a subject’s non-use of polygraph countermeasures reduces his risk of being accused of using them, and conversely, there is no evidence that a subject’s use of sophisticated countermeasures (the kind that anyone who understands polygraph procedure would use) increases his risk of being accused of using them.

Yes . . . You don’t like polygraphs . . . They aren’t perfect . . . blah, blah, blah . . .

We get it.


All who leak classified information should be prosecuted. We should stop allowing politicians to violate the law with impunity.


Ed nails it, as usual. When we signed up for Military service, we didn’t swear to defend against “some enemies, occasionally, as long as we really don’t like them, mostly.” Same with classified. You agree to protect it, period. You don’t store it at home, transmit it in the clear, or carry it around unauthorized, and you sure as hell don’t hand it off to a media outlet because you “feel obligated.”


Color me in the block “against unauthorized release.” Just because I THINK I am all knowing about all facts on a program…I realize there is what I know and what I don’t know and things I don’t know I don’t know. There are many things in life on the surface appearing to be bad…dig a few power point slides deep…and you see that you didn’t have all the information necessary to truly have an informed opinion. Have there been grave moral wrongs committed in the name of national security? I have no doubt there have been. But just maybe…we don’t always have all the information and we are not at a high enough architectural view to know that. Justifying leaks because you “feel” something is wrong…isn’t the right thing to do. And relying on an advocacy piece on Netflix and trusting they aren’t spinning a story to make money…well…that isn’t too smart either.


Can agree @amberbunny. A clearance puts you in a position of trust, and that trust goes both ways. They trust you not to divulge secrets, and you trust them that it is in the interest of the United States to hold that secret.

It’s a matter of professionalism, as I see it. You put your personal feelings aside to do a job. If a clearance holder can’t any longer abide by that situation, then they should seek other employment.

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