25 Jan 2011
Daniel Ellsberg, the former US military analyst who released the Pentagon Papers to the public, an act that brought an end to America's war in Vietnam, says, "We need whistleblowers to stop murder."
Ellsberg argues that every administration hates leaks that are unauthorized by itself. The highest officials authorize nearly all leaks. So unauthorized disclosures that are truly “unauthorized,” (such as those released by WikiLeaks) represent a threat. They are very much a minority of what is seen in newspapers, says Ellsberg.
WikiLeaks shakes at the core of a government's ability to keep its secrets, Ellsberg says, arguing further that government administrations would like to close down the organisation as a channel for information about what they are doing.
With respect to the case being brought against Bradley Manning, the young soldier charged with releasing classified information to WikiLeaks, what most people don't know is that the US does not have a law that makes it criminal to publish classified information -- most other nations do.
The US doesn't have this law as it would go against the First Amendment, and the principle upholding the First Amendment is freedom of speech of the press.
The reason for the First Amendment was to ensure a flow of information to the public through the newspapers for citizens to be able to discuss the shortcomings of government, incompetence, corruption and wrongdoing.
According to Ellsberg, the First Amendment should protect Manning from the charge that he is being indicted with. It is the same charge that was brought against Ellsberg.
Ellsberg was the first person to be prosecuted under section 18 USC 793, paragraphs D & E of what is called the Espionage Act.
According to Ellsberg, those sections of the act should be ruled unconstitutional because they relate to pure espionage (passing on secrets to an enemy country) rather than releasing information to the public who have a right to it.
Consequently, the reason the act is not used very often to prosecute people is because it is likely that the Supreme Court would find the charges unconstitutional.
However, President Obama has already brought five such indictments in his two years in office. He is using the act as if it were an official secrets act, apparently not worrying that this Supreme Court is as likely as other ones before it to find it unconstitutional.
According to Ellsberg, the motivation for this could be that the intimidating aspect of bringing people to trial and the stress of a long trial might be enough to dissuade other people from leaking information.
Ellsberg says his prosecution was meant purely to intimidate people and it did have that effect. He was facing 150 years in prison and even though the charges were dismissed, no one rushed to leak information again for another 40years.