As an old reporter who has from time to time outed classified information, I have watched the cases of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden with professional interest.
What troubles me about them is not that they broke the oaths they swore when they took their classified government jobs, the thing that makes them liable to prosecution. Government finds all kinds of dubious reasons to keep secrets, sometimes nefarious reasons, and conscience can force one to break a promise. My problem is with the indiscriminate nature of their leaks.
These are young people at war with the concept of secrecy itself, which is just foolish. There are many legitimate reasons for governments to keep secrets, among them the need to preserve the element of surprise in military operations or criminal investigations, to permit leaders and diplomats to bargain candidly, and to protect the identities of those we ask to perform dangerous and difficult missions.
The most famous leakers in American history were motivated not by a general opposition to secrecy but by a desire to expose specific wrongdoing. Mark Felt, the “Deep Throat” who helped steer Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s Watergate reporting, understood that the Nixon Administration was energetically abusing the powers of the presidency. Daniel Ellsberg copied and leaked the Pentagon Papers because they showed that the White House and Pentagon had never really believed the lies they were telling about the Vietnam War.