Whistleblowers, traitors, or patriots?

Watching and listening to Rep. Trey Gowdy during last week’s House Intelligence Committee hearing with FBI Director James Comey and NSC Director Mike Rogers was  deja vu for those of us old enough to remember Joseph McCarthy’s use of the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917.

Trey-Gowdy-1200x6301With stern face and the determined voice of a righteous prosecutor Gowdy shifted the focus of the hearing away from the question of outside foreign interference in the election process to the leaks coming from inside the intelligence community itself, and the need to find and prosecute the leakers under the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917. A breach of secrecy of classified material is punishable by as much as 10 year prison sentence.

A google search led to an article by a whistleblower published by The Guardian criticizing the Obama Administration with prosecuting whistleblowers while turning a blind eye to leaks of classified material by members of the Administration itself. Click “Obama’s abuse of the Espionage Act is modern-day McCarthyism” for The Guardian story from 2013 that moves the conversation beyond partisanship to the issue of the national security state and the new McCarthyism.

mccarthy1McCarthyism began with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s conviction that the communists had infiltrated the federal government as well as the left-leaning entertainment industry and the media. He was looking for spies and traitors, American citizens whose nefarious purposes posed the greatest threat to the United States of America.

Twenty years later, Daniel Ellsberg was charged under the Espionage Act of 1917 and charges of conspiracy and theft for “leaking” to the New York Times what became known as the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Pentagon study of U.S. government decision-making in relation to the Vietnam War, a crime with a total maximum sentence of 115 years. On May 11, 1973, the judge in the case dismissed all charges on the grounds of  government misconduct and illegal evidence gathering.

What we had then, and what have now, is an ethical issue of the first order.

Edward_Snowden-2Are there times when a government employee’s loyalty to the U.S. Constitution and and the duty of conscience supersedes the vow of secrecy under which she works? Are whistleblowers traitors? Patriots? Or something in between?

“Sometimes the scandal is not what law was broken, but what the law allows.” – Edward Snowden [quoted from Brainyquotes.com]

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 25, 2017.