With all the recent news about “leaks” of classified material, I thought it would be useful to inform people about why material is classified in the first place. Oh by the way, this is not sensitive stuff here; it is freely available to anyone with the ability to use an internet search engine. Generally, there are three reasons for classifying information and each one is briefly discussed below.
1. Protect the information – you don’t let the enemy know what you know about him, and you damned sure don’t let the enemy know about you. Suppose the Feds know what bank Al Capone is going to rob. They can’t arrest him before he commits a crime, but they can take precautions to safeguard civilians and arrest him as he tried to steal the money. But if Capone knows you know about his plans and he knows that the Feds will be guarding the original bank, he will go to another.
2. Protect the source – don’t let the enemy know how you learned what you know about him, for if you do, that source will surely dry up. Suppose you learned about Capone’s plans from a secret microphone in a room he frequently uses. You do not want that microphone to be discovered, otherwise you would get no more information – or Capone could use it to provide disinformation.
3. Protect from embarrassment – the reasons here are self-explanatory, and though it is not supposed to happen, it occurs all the time by all governments. The downside to this is that people do not realize how badly governments screw up at times. The upside is that people are able to maintain their faith in their governments. Suppose the Feds set up at the wrong bank branch while Capone and his gang successfully knocked over the real target.
Now, substitute Al Qaida, China, Iran, ISIS, North Korea, Syria, or Russia today for the Al Capone of yesterday. You should be able to see that protecting classified information – and its source – is vitally important. So why do so people leak sensitive information? Here are just a few of reasons.
Some people do it for the money because of financial difficulties or simple greed. There are others who have done something for which they are being blackmailed. It seems that there are more of the former than of the latter recently. And of course, there are foreign agents with geopolitical agendas, but those people are professionals who rarely get caught.
Nowadays, the most common type of “leakers” are those who think they know better than anyone else as to what the public needs to know despite the potential for compromising national security. I refer to the likes of Julian Assange, Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning, Edward Snowden, and now Reality Winner. They disagree with a particular government administration or its policies, and they are unable to accept how democracy works. They put their personal beliefs ahead of national interests. Many such leakers think of themselves as heroes, and unfortunately there are ignorant fools who venerate them.
In reality (pardon the poor pun here), disclosing classified information without authorization makes a person as much an enemy as any Cold War spy. Remember the World War II slogan that “Loose lips sink ships”? Regardless of motive, leaked classified information is damaging to the country, and such people deserve the harshest of penalties. I have absolutely no sympathy for them or their self-identified causes.