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Author Explores the Conflict between National Security and Freedom of Press
June 21, 2012
With the recent increase in discussion regarding unauthorized disclosures, the government has increased the attention it pays to the handling of classified information. In his recently published book, Who Watches the Watchmen: The Conflict between National Security and Freedom of the Press, author Gary Ross examines the intelligence community's concerns about when, if ever, classified information should be leaked to the press and the journalist's right to disclose that information to the public.
Ross attempts to tackle two very important questions: When, if ever, should classified material be published? And does publishing classified material cause an unwarranted threat to national security? He further explores the phenomenon of leaks from multiple angles, including a history that dates back to the mid-1770s, taking the reader on a journey through the long-standing and often colorful feud between the intelligence community and the press.
Ross began writing the book when he was a part-time student at the National Intelligence University in 2007, searching for a thesis topic. At that time he was also employed as a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, making him very familiar with the delicate world within counterintelligence investigations and operations.
"In this particular instance it was a matter of becoming aware of an individual or individuals who had knowledge of classified information and then took it upon themselves to contact the media. The media in turn took it upon themselves to publish that information," recalled Ross.
Not only was the disclosed information potentially harmful, but it potentially exposed the underlying sources and methods used to collect that information. Ross states, "And there lies the even larger problem because when the media publishes information a lot of times they're focused on whether that information, in their own estimation, is harmful. Often what they don't consider is if once published an adversary might do their own analysis to determine the source and method used to collect that information." That initial decision to share information without going through the proper channels immediately puts so many at risk of harm on so many different levels, he added.
Ross said there are various causal motivators that might push someone to leak classified information. "Some will do it for ideology, some for ego. Others because they want to help a program they are affiliated with or possibly harm a program they are not affiliated with. Some reasons may be altruistic: to bring a matter to the public's attention, promote an informed debate or expose corrupt or illegal activity. There are also the malicious motives, such as to harm someone's career."
Ross admits there really is no iron-clad identifier of 'this is who may disclose classified information' to the media. He does, however, offer a possible resolution to comply with the intelligence professional's oath to protect national security while accommodating a journalist's need to know. "The intelligence community should proactively engage with the media to examine the costs and benefits associated with unauthorized disclosures. This exchange represents the greatest potential for reducing the perceived harm to national security," said Ross.
When an employee feels the need to divulge something of concern, Ross points out that there are proper channels, such as the Intelligence Community Whistle Blower Protection Act or the Inspector General's office. "While the term 'whistle blower' is used pretty freely by the media, for our purposes it is someone who raises a concern through approved internal government channels."
Especially important in following the approved channels, Ross explained, is the government's immediately attaching protections to prevent against retaliation when an employee in the intelligence community steps forward.
Ross discussed his book with the Defense Intelligence Agency workforce at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. on June 25, 2012. Who Watches the Watchmen: The Conflict between National Security and Freedom of the Press was recently published by DIA's National Intelligence Press. It does not reflect the official views of the Intelligence Community or the Department of Defense. It may be downloaded free of charge at http://www.ni-u.edu/ni_press/press.html. Hardcopies are available for purchase by the general public at the Government Printing Office bookstore, and federal government employees may request a free copy of the book by contacting the National Intelligence Press directly.
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This page was last updated March 21, 2013.