The surveillance state and whistleblowing

The Obama administration can be characterized by at least three features: vast over-reaching in its claim to executive power, egregiously violating people’s liberties, and indulging in excessive secrecy.

Whistleblowers have provided a valuable service in letting us know what is going on and exposing wrongdoing and the administration has been a vigorous prosecutor of leakers and whistleblowers, demanding access to all manner of private communications from reporters and employees in their efforts to identify and harshly punish anyone who crosses them.

But that may be past. Now the administration is developing such widespread snooping capabilities in every area of all our lives that it may no longer need to harass journalists to find out their sources of information. And since the media are not being targeted, they seem to be not that disturbed by this development.

The public is generally unaware of how essential nominally classified information is to coverage of diplomatic and strategic news. As Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ government secrecy project, put it: “The administration’s aggressive pursuit of leaks represents a challenge to the practice of national security reporting, which depends on the availability of unauthorized sources if it is to produce something more than ‘authorized’ news.”

What’s behind the administration’s fervor isn’t clear, but the news media have largely rolled over and yawned. A big reason is that prosecutors aren’t hassling reporters as they once did. Thanks to the post-9/11 explosion in government intercepts, electronic surveillance, and data capture of all imaginable kinds — the NSA is estimated to have intercepted 15-20 trillion communications in the past decade — the secrecy police have vast new ways to identify leakers.

So they no longer have to force journalists to expose confidential sources. As a national security representative told Lucy Dalglish, director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, “We’re not going to subpoena reporters in the future. We don’t need to. We know who you’re talking to.”

This is the administration that boasted that it would be one of the most transparent ever.


  1. Emu Sam says

    Transparent like a one-way mirror. Where do one-way mirrors fall on the scale of all administrations?

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