One reason why many folks of my Generation and older were shocked and angry when Private Manning "did his thing" is that we come from a long tradition of secrecy. I had friends and family members with clearances who'd sworn a blood oath to keep secrets and took that oath seriously. I was one of them. Sometimes I'd been let in on some of the secrets (illegally since the law doesn't let relatives let relatives in on them) but it was always with the implicit understanding we'd keep them for the family member. Most of the time a relative would point to an article in Science or Popular Mechanics and say "that's what I was working on." They were forbidden to talk about it, kept that promise, and suddenly this joker spills an entire database of secrets out to the press. I never read Manning's material first hand. I was offended by his action. I knew people who wanted to "take him out" for breaking the silence that millions of American men and women had been keeping on what our government was doing. We really believed that "loose lips sink ships" and that most of what we were doing was honorable (even the dishonorable parts) and for the sake of our country and even mankind as a whole. We thought we were the good guys.
In fact I was working with Military Medical ID secrets and had worked on Pay and Personnel, news releases, and other non-classified but equally private information. I took pride in keeping appropriate secrets and also agreed with that "oath keepers" notion that we would never obey an illegal or immoral order. But the reality began to set in even before Private Manning did his thing. And as time goes by I'm realizing that the secrets we were keeping were not good for our country, that such secrets sink ships even more than loose lips about them, and that we really need to rethink this whole "secrecy thing.
Trouble is, when we live in a society where we can trust each other but not those outside our own group that is a dangerous place to be. And we do. Russians, Israelis, Arab Nations, Vatican, French, British, emerging nations, ancient Nations, Chinese and even little countries like Rwanda, all have people keeping secrets. And "loose lips" really do "sink ships." The Pueblo was sunk to protect North Korean secrets. And the USS Liberty was sunk to keep Israeli secrets. We remember these transgressions because they illustrate the "great" (actually it's not great at all) "game" that is international spying, covert operations and terrorism. Folks die to keep secrets. Folks commit suicide, are murdered, are jailed, are defamed and blacklisted, suicided, labeled crazy or otherwise sidelined to keep secrets. And the law gives officials and judges power to keep secrets that shouldn't be kept. And the nature of the release of secrets is such that their release kills people, shocks Wall Street, brings down governments, and hurts people. Truth hurts. Untruth hurts more.
Keeping Crimes Secret Hurts a Lot more.
But keeping crimes secrets hurts a lot more. I had no trouble keeping my secrets because I understood them, was hiding nothing that shouldn't be kept secret, and it was my honor and duty to "fermé le bouche" about them. And I'm hyper-sensitive about such things, so I don't think I have the wisdom to decide which secrets ought not to be kept. But I'm out of government work because I no longer believe that much of what we are doing is right. There is a lot of crime committed in "secret-land" and it needs to be stopped. I believe the Congress needs to amend it's whistle blower and secrecy laws to make it easier to declassify information about crimes and harder for courts and the Government to use secrecy to cover them up.
Legacy of Ashes
Right now I'm reading "Legacy of Ashes" by Tim Weiner, and it is like all books on the CIA, FBI, etc... Told by authors who depend on professional liars for their source information. So it has a lot of tantalizing clues in it, and some areas that contradict what other books on the CIA tell me, and stories I've heard from some of those friends and relatives I mentioned. But it points to the fact that we don't get a straight story, even when the authorities are pretending to come clean. The meat of the story is how the CIA deflected the Church Committee and avoided prosecution after years of violating it's own charter, and that alone makes the book a good read. It's not definitive. Not sure there ever will be a definitive book on the CIA, spycraft involves regularly recording misinformation, disinformation and lies within lies. But it does have it's clues. For example on page 336 it discusses how Colby tried (mostly successfully) to dissemble, deflect and hide CIA domestic spying. Ultimately Colby let himself be a scapegoat too, but first he:
"by laying the issue of illegal domestic surveillance at the doorstep of Jim Angleton, who had been opening first class mail in partnership with the FBI for twenty years."
He then notes the treasonous attitude of Angleton (and by implication most of the CIA) when he quotes Angleton:
"It is inconceivable" he said "that a secret arm of the government has to comply with all the overt orders of the government."
Anyone familiar with the CIA and it's 17 fighting, struggling, rival and different internal agencies, or the Special Ops community, to any degree will recognize this quote as part of a "protecting the President" [from knowledge] attitude of many folks in our Security forces. It is dangerous to play with Special Ops. Unemployed Special Ops people formed the Nucleus of Mussolini's Fascist party in the 1900's and they are very dangerous folks to any civilian government. Anyone wondering how Obama can be continuing programs he criticized for reaching office need only hear this quote from Angleton and a few more to understand how hard it is to reign in a security state once it's formed.
More likely they'll quietly remind officials like Presidents where the real power is.
So I'm not onboard with keeping all the secrets that some of our officials want to keep in a democracy. I don't see Snowden the way I saw Manning, though I wish he'd focused on just the "bad secrets" and not spilled the beans on the huge spying capabilities I've known about for years. What switched me is that Angleton's words applied in 1975 and they never stopped spying domestically. And they not only kept secrets but lied. And not only lied, but lied for the private gain of a cabal. That is what hurts most. I innocently helped them betray my country. Snowden is nominally a traitor and were I forced to sit on a jury trying him I'd find him guilty. But so are the folks at NSA and the FBI who are undermining our democracy and subverting our countries basic principles. Like Angleton they assert impunity.
Legacy of Ashes: http://www.amazon.com/Legacy-Ashes-The-History-CIA/dp/0307389006