WikiLeaks: When is it 'right' to leak national security secrets?
The WikiLeaks trove of 91,000 classified US military documents has prompted discussion about how to maintain national security in the digital age – and when the end justifies the means.
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But "whistle-blower" also has a broader definition – of the citizen who sounds the alarm about wrongdoing and thus encourages action, says Mr. Renner, who specializes in environmental whistle-blowers.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet while the opportunities for leaking information may have multiplied in the Digital Age, for the leaker it still usually comes down to getting out the truth, experts in the psychology of secrets sharers say.
"People who pass along classified documents generally see themselves as having a higher loyalty, higher than their employer or even their nation," says Jerrold Post, an expert in political psychology at George Washington University (GWU) in Washington who is a former psychological profiler for the Central Intelligence Agency. "They feel some personal obligation to call attention to the truth."
The "four motivations" the Soviets used in assessing an individual's aptitude for becoming a spy – MISE or money, ideology, sex, and ego – can also apply to understanding the leaker, says Dr. Post, who has written about loyalty and treason in the divulging of classified information.
"Ego is often an important motivation, if you think in terms of the little man who considers he has made an attack on the whole system," he says. "That man looks into the mirror and says, 'How important you are – you who they dismiss as only a coat clerk or a junior analyst, when in fact you've been able to strike this blow for democracy.' "
Doubts about motivations in a case involving national security were apparently enough for one of Manning's Internet interlocutors to report him.
Adrian Lamo, a convicted hacker who now speaks on issues surrounding hacking and information access, turned over to the FBI the text of his detailed chats with Manning, which seem to suggest the young soldier's passing of voluminous information to WikiLeaks.
Mr. Lamo says he acted out of concern for national security and the risks he believed Manning's actions posed to American lives – motivations that some champions of information access have derided as right-wing excuses and as groundless.
But the Manning-Lamo chats do offer a window into the thinking of a leaker, whether or not the Army analyst is proved to be involved in the Iraq video or Afghanistan cases. At one point, Manning writes that he has "forwarded" a body of information, and adds, "god knows what happens now – hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms – if not ... we're doomed.... I will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens.
"I want people to see the truth," he goes on, "because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public."
As Post of GWU says, the opportunities for believers to act are likely to proliferate.
"We have huge amounts of information being generated and stored," he says, "but at the same time, there is a whole body of people in the IT world, primarily among the younger people, who believe in 'digital libertarianism' – that all information should be free and accessible and that all these official secrets and classifications are old-fashioned."
- WikiLeaks: How did the Pentagon lose track of 91,000 documents?
- WikiLeaks report harms national security in Afghanistan, says White House
- WikiLeaks Q&A with Daniel Ellsberg, the man behind the Pentagon Papers