Sunday, November 3, 2013

Idle Thoughts -- Need to Know

If you were a journalist , how might you describe the proper balance between the public's right to know and the need for national security ? Would it make a diffence if you were not a journalist but a member of law enforcement? Or a school teacher? Or a military person? 

If I were a journalist, the balance between the public's right to know and national security would be a very difficult one. Journalists are trained to be very carefully objective. That is, that they should report the facts which they uncover and let others decide what to do about those facts.

But even a reporter is an American citizen. There is an obligation not to reveal things which will bring harm to our country or to our soldiers. It should be noted that bringing harm to a political party or an elected official is not the same thing is causing harm to the country in general.

Let's look at an actual case. On December 4, 1941 The Chicago Tribune printed the top-secret Rainbow Five Plan in which the US military reported its preparedness for war and what it would take to become fully prepared. Among other revelations, this verbatim report of the plan revealed that the United States would be unable to be fully prepared for war for at least 18 months from beginning to do so. The newspaper published it because it was anti-Roosevelt and wanted to embarrass him politically, showing he was preparing for war, which he had denied. Of course, they also notified Germany and Japan of the total unpreparedness of United States, an act which can only be described as treason, although the United States was not at that moment at war with these individuals, both countries were planning to attack the United States. The Chicago Tribune gave invaluable information and assistance to Adolf Hitler and Gen. Tojo, helping them to kill both Americans and our other allies.

Japan's attack three days later was not influenced by the Rainbow Five Plans revelation because it already been launched. However, postwar documents revealed that Hitler used the secret information to inflict brutal harm on England in a desperate attempt to make that country surrender before America could be ready in the 18 month period. There is no doubt that many lives were lost because of this despicable and treasonous act. Worse, it was done to gain a political advantage against a domestic political enemy, the then sitting president.

In that case journalism clearly went too far. But where to draw the line? That is a question which can only be answered by looking at every individual case. Each case is different, and an individual must use his best judgment in any given case to decide what to report and what to keep secret.

Another example. When Daniel Ellsberg revealed the Pentagon Papers, many called him a traitor. However, what he revealed did not give significant help to our Vietnamese enemies. Instead, it revealed the lies and deceits that had been told to the American people in order to deceive us into supporting the Vietnam War. Ellsberg was acting in a patriotic manner. He did the right thing.

The difference between the two revelations was that one helped our enemies in a significant way. It even helped them to kill American soldiers. In the other case, only our government was embarrassed by it's own bad actions. I see a clear difference between the two situations.

A law enforcement officer would see things differently than a journalist. That is to be expected. One of the primary functions of a journalist in a free society is to restrict the government. As a journalist, it is your job report when the government does bad things. In the two cases I reported above, clearly both journalists thought they were doing the right thing by showing up the hypocrisy of the US president. The difference is that one helped America's enemies kill Americans, the other did not.

The law-enforcement officer, unlike the reporter, has a different job. He is part of the government. He represents the police power of the state. It is in fact, the journalist's job to keep an eye on the police as well as other arms of the government to make sure they behave properly in a free society. The reporter represents the American people. The law-enforcement officer represents the government. Both are supposed to serve the American people, but in different capacities. A reporter should be seeking out government failures, that is beyond an officer's scope of duty.

The schoolteacher also serves the public in a different capacity. Again, it is not the teacher's job to seek out failures in the government. Any teacher should be concerned with educating the children in his or her care, not seeking out corruption.

The military position is even more restricted. Their duty is to serve the government and in so doing, the people. In the military situation, even more so than in a law-enforcement situation, personnel serve in a hierarchical structure of command. All legal orders must be obeyed, and should be obeyed without question. Without this structure a military organization will cease to function effectively. Yet every American soldier takes an oath of loyalty to the Constitution of United States. That is their primary duty. This means that they may be forced to reveal unconstitutional actions of their own government, perhaps even in defiance of their superior officers.

In fact, any of these citizens, whatever their other positions, have the obligations that all citizens have. If we discover government corruption or illegal acts being committed by the government, we should report them. Perhaps the best place to report them is to a reporter. It may not be our job to seek them out, but if they come to our attention the course of performing our normal duties, we cannot simply ignore them. To do so would be to fail in our duty as citizens of a free nation.

The point, then, becomes is the government security classification justified? In the case of Rainbow Five Plan reviewing it was horrifically damaging. In the case of the Pentagon Papers, the classification of been applied for the sole purpose of allowing the president to lie to the American people. In each case, the decision must be made as to whether the classification of secrets was justified or not.

I end by repeating my statement, this judgment must be made by each individual based upon the facts of that particular case.

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