When freedom of information and transparency are stifled, then bad decisions are often made and heartbreaking tragedies occur – too often on a breathtaking scale that can leave societies wondering: how did this happen? Think about the recent debates on torture, assassination by unmanned aircraft, secret warrants and detentions, intelligence and surveillance courts, military commissions, immigration detention centers and the conduct of modern warfare. These policies affect millions of people around the world every day and can affect anyone – wives, children, fathers, aunts, boyfriends, cousins, friends, employees, bosses, clergy and even career politicians – at any time. It is time that we bring a health dose of sunlight to them.
I believe that when the public lacks even the most fundamental access to what its governments and militaries are doing in their names, then they cease to be involved in the act of citizenship. There is a bright distinction between citizens, who have rights and privileges protected by the state, and subjects, who are under the complete control and authority of the state.
In the past decade or so there have been an increasing number of clashes – both in the public and behind the scenes – between the US government, the news media and those in the public who want fair access to records that pertain to the implementation of policies by their government.
After the establishment of the National Security Division of the Department of Justice in 2006, there have been more national security and criminal investigations into journalists and prosecutions of their sources than at any other time in the nation’s memory. Eight people have been charged under provisions of the Espionage Act of 1917 for giving documents and information to the media by this administration alone – including me, former CIA officers Jeffrey Sterling and John Kiriakou, and the former Department of State analyst Stephen Jin-Woo Kim.
The roots of this crackdown seem to have begun before the administration took office: Steven Rose and Keith Weissman were prosecuted for sharing information about classified foreign policy issues to members of the media, analysts, and officials of a foreign nation, though neither man worked for the government or had a security clearance. The lawyers who prosecuted Rose and Weissman successfully established their broad interpretation of the Espionage Act before Judge TS Ellis III; though he ruled in their favor, he also warned that “the time is ripe for Congress to engage in a thorough review and revision of [the Espionage Act of 1917] to ensure that they reflect ... contemporary views about the appropriate balance between our nation’s security and our citizens’ ability to engage in public debate about the United States’ conduct in the society of nations.
Read the full article at The Guardian.