In 2000, Congress created and passed a broad anti-leak measure without holding public hearings. President Clinton vetoed the bill because, although the bill was well-intentioned, it would
. . . chill legitimate activities that are at the heart of a democracy.The difference between 2000, when Clinton vetoed the bill, and now, when the Obama administration has waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers and Congress is again considering creating anti-leak legislation, is the 9/11 attacks. But just because 9/11 happened does not change the relevancy and power of Clinton's warning against broad anti-leak measures. We have already given away too much of our freedom because of 9/11.
Don't miss this excellent op-ed in today's New York Times by my Yale Law School professor, Bruce Ackerman, which beautifully strikes to the heart of the dangers of criminalizing whistleblowing:
Telling Americans about secret presidential actions that threaten our fundamental law should never be considered violations of the Espionage Act. Such leaks don’t endanger our national security. They promote it, by preserving our constitutional integrity.
Back in 2000:
Both conservatives and liberals condemned the [anti-leaks] bill.Considering some of the rhetoric surrounding Congress' understandable indignation at the Obama administration's hypocrisy of prosecuting low and mid-level officials while feeding the media pro-government information that the administration continues to claim is classified, Congress is in danger of making the same mistake it did in 2000.
Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) said the provision amounted to an "official secrets act" that would "silence whistle-blowers." Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said Congress was "foolish to give a blank check to the executive branch" that would allow it to punish its internal critics.
I've been saying from the beginning that the Obama administration's war on whistleblowers is a back door way of creating an Official Secrets Act, something this country has managed to go without for over 200 years.
I'll be discussing these issues on Democracy Now! tomorrow.
The recent outrage from both sides of the aisle over "leaks" is understandable, and we may want to react with relief that finally Congress recognizes the hypocrisy of the Obama administration criminally prosecuting low and mid-level officials under the Espionage Act while simultaneously slipping pro-government information to the press.
However, we must be mindful of the long-term implications of this latest "leak" hysteria, which could lead us down the dangerous path of chilling more speech under the guise of protecting national security.