The hunting of the snitch

The hunt is on the for the author of the anonymous New York Times op-ed piece by someone proudly boasting about how s/he and associate have carried out what is essentially a palace coup against Donald Trump whenever he tries to do anything against extreme conservative/libertarian policies on trade and foreign policy. This despite the fact that Trump has given them pretty much everything they desired, going beyond even their wildest dreams when it comes to policies that hurt women, minorities, people of color, the LGBT community, immigrants, refugees, and the poor.

Unlike previous cases of anonymous leaks, I am thoroughly enjoying this particular game. In the earlier cases involving Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Reality Winner, it was clear that the leakers were low-level people acting in the public interest who were risking their careers and extended time in prison. I did not want to see them identified and caught and made to suffer because I knew that government would come down on them like a ton of bricks because they hate anyone challenging their authority.

In this case, the leaker is clearly someone in a position of at least some power and influence within the government. Such people leak all the time in order to advance their own careers or policy goals and this person seems to be no exception. The NYT would not have published this op-ed if the leaker was a nobody whom they did not already know. So if the name is revealed, I am not concerned. If the name is not discovered and this causes Trump to continue his witch hunt to find the person and results in everybody in the administration turning against each other, I am not concerned either.

It looks like a win-win to me.

Meanwhile senator Rand Paul is calling for possible suspects to be subjected to polygraph tests although those tests are notoriously unreliable. One would think that such a move would violate Paul’s libertarian principles although we know that those principles are so flexible as to be effectively non-existent. Trump is urging that the justice department investigate the leak though it is not clear that any laws were broken. It is also reported that Trump is considering ordering people in the administration who might be suspects to sign affidavits saying that they are not the author. I was wondering whether this would be effective. If the author lies and signs the affidavit, and the truth is later revealed, what might be the punishment? While perjury is a crime, this seems like such an inconsequential lie that I cannot imagine that it would be even prosecuted, let alone result in a stiff punishment.

Everyone and their siblings have got into the game of guessing the identity of the writer and compiled lists of possible suspects. Some are resorting to linguistic analysis to see if they can identify the writer from the style of the article. But experts on this field are pouring cold water on that approach. They say that linguistic identification requires a large amount of writing samples from possible suspects similar in purpose to the text whose author is sought. Such methods may have some chance of success when trying to identify (say) the authorship of the oeuvre associated with William Shakespeare from among his contemporary authors. In this case we have only a single op-ed to work with and since few people write op-eds, this approach is more like guesswork. So any guesses based on linguistic analyses, such as this one, should be taken with a huge grain of salt.

The identity of the leaker will likely become known only if someone with direct knowledge of who it is spills the beans. Given the cutthroat atmosphere in this administration, that is not unlikely.


  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    If the author lies and signs the affidavit, and the truth is later revealed, what might be the punishment?

    Probably a book deal.

    While perjury is a crime,..

    That would not be perjury.
    Wikipedia on perjury

  2. John Morales says

    … have carried out what is essentially a palace coup against Donald Trump …

    Um, that’s not to what ‘palace coup’ refers. Trump is still the boss.

    “a situation in which a leader is removed from power by the people who have worked with him or her: A palace coup led by General Rodríguez has toppled the dictator.” — (Cambridge)

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