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Good Leaks and Bad Leaks

The fall of the United States in Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index seems attributable mostly to the war on whistleblowers. "The whistleblower is the enemy," the report states, singling out the harsh treatment of Barrett Brown, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden

Politicians go out of their way to denounce whistleblowers and "leakers" whose revelations of classified data, they claim, have harmed national security. 

But it's always worth pointing out that the outrage is selective. 

Take the revelations this week, reported by the Associated Press (2/10/14),  that the United States is considering a drone attack to kill a US citizen purportedly working with Al-Qaeda. The report was based on information provided by at least four unnamed government officials. At the request of the government, the AP withheld the location of the American who is targeted,  but a subsequent New York Times report (2/10/14) asserted that the American is living in Pakistan. 

So we have what is certainly a sensitive government operation to kill a US citizen in a foreign country being splashed across the national media, based on what is surely considered extremely sensitive information provided by government officials. 

So where are Rep. Peter King (R.-N.Y.) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R.-Mich.), politicians who have assailed the likes of Edward Snowden for revealing sensitive secrets? There is little condemnation of this story to be found, and no calls to round up the leakers. 

So why not? 

Perhaps because on the surface, this story would seem to be an official leak–one where the government divulges information in order to put its policies in a more flattering light. In these accounts, the White House is carefully weighing the pros and cons of a possible assassination, reconciling it with Barack Obama's speech about the new limits he aims to put on the US drone program. Or perhaps it's a leak from within intended to portray the White House as being too cautious. In either case, it doesn't seem to be generating the usual complaints about reckless leakers handing over sensitive intelligence to the media. 

As for critics like Rogers–he's speaking out on the issue, but it's not those who divulge secrets that he's mad at; it's the White House for not acting fast enough to strike. Assassinating US citizens involves too much "red tape," the Times story notes as his objection.

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Peter Hart

Peter Hart is the Communications Director at the National Coalition Against Censorship. Previously at the media watchdog group FAIR, Hart is also the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly. (Seven Stories Press, 2003).

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