Do you remember that time that a classified document was released that caused the United States to lose a battle? Or that time Americans died because of a leak? Or when a hangnail got infected and a government official had to go on antibiotics? The reason you don’t remember any of these things is because they never happened. The government doesn’t get angry about leaks because it harms the country or even the government itself. It gets angry because those leaks usually embarrass government officials. You ought to have wondered about that after the Clinton administration declassified a bunch of documents that the Cheney administration later reclassified.
But more than this, the most important documents are classified not because government officials are afraid that foreign entities will find out about them but rather because they are afraid that Americans will find out about them. It took forty years for information about the Gulf of Tonkin incident to be released. It certainly wasn’t because the Vietnamese couldn’t learn the truth about our error. It was that the American people would not be pleased to know that our big push into the Vietnam War was based upon nonsense — that the justification for the Spanish-American War was better.
As a result, one of the absolute worst legacies of Obama will be his use of the Espionage Act of 1917 and his war on whistleblowers. That really will create a great narrative for the history book. The young and idealistic constitutional law professor comes into office and abandons everything he once claimed to be in favor of. This is why we shouldn’t elect Boy Scouts as presidents. Once the spooks get at them, the naive fall apart. Can’t risk anything going wrong by being liberal about freedom of the press! This is why the US press freedom ranking has been dropping.
If you are like me, you got a good laugh out of David Petraeus getting probation for his unconscionable leak of top secret information. We never thought he would get anything more. After all, he is the right kind of leaker: a very powerful older man who used the information to impress and bed an attractive younger writer. Boys will be boy, right?! We can’t hold that against the man!
But it is different when you are someone who is really concerned about wrongdoing by the government. If you leak information about that, then you need to be punished — and severally. That’s why John Kiriakou was given two and a half years when Petraeus was given nothing. One of the big claims for not punishing Petraeus is that none of the names he leaked ever made it out. Well, that was true of Kiriakou too. But again, it doesn’t matter. Kiriakou was the wrong kind of leaker. He wasn’t a high ranking member of the government who was doing it for personal reasons. He was doing it out of a sense of right and wrong. You can’t respect that!
Now Jeffrey Sterling is looking at 19 to 24 years for the information he provided to James Risen for his book, State of War. He didn’t leak any names at all. The government, of course, claims that Sterling caused all kinds of harm to the United States. When does the government claim anything else (except in the case of highly placed leakers just trying to bed a younger woman)? I don’t think Sterling’s leaks hurt the United States at all. Regardless, it will be a major miscarriage of justice if he gets two decades in prison while Petraeus gets none. And Sterling’s lawyers are arguing just that.
Sterling is scheduled for sentencing on 11 May. Expect to see him sentenced to something between 19 and 24 years. The courts can’t make a special exception just for him. After all, he’s the wrong kind of leaker.
 I know Obama hasn’t gone after the press directly. The systemic attacks on leakers is a constitutional loophole. Without leakers, the press will be allowed to write anything it wants based upon government press conferences. And at that point, you might as well have a government controlled press.