Here’s the deal: if a government develops the habit of classifying virtually everything the least bit controversial, there will, eventually, arise a subculture devoted to exposing secrets just because they are secrets.
Such a subculture is not usually too concerned with national security, so some, perhaps even a large portion, of the secrets will damage national security.
In such a situation, the issue of whether it is a better service to the country in question to remain silent when you think you are dealing with incorrectly classified documents or not is unclear. Whether you serve the best interests of the country can be argued either way.
But the slavish devotion to enforcing laws authorizing the loose restrictions on secrecy in the first place undermines the legitimacy of the entire government.
Our country has reached just such a position. And it’s far from the first time. Young people may not recall the impact of the Pentagon Papers and Daniel Ellsberg’s case, but the releases of secret emails by Bradley Manning to wiki leaks has the same characteristics, except the unpopularity of Vietnam. Ellsberg is, today, viewed as something of a hero by most of my generation. Whether Manning will ever achieve such a status or not is very much in question.
Even whether Manning’s case will create a more understanding reception of Edward Snowden is uncertain. That an over reach by the NSA of such magnitude as Snowden’s leaks revealed should have Americans up in arms seems, somehow, to have been removed from the issue altogether.
The very nature of the NSA’s intrusion into every American’s life has almost been forgotten, and his case is still a newborn. “The traitor ran to Russia, for God’s sake.” But, following Manning, what would you have done?
The willingness of Americans to accept government intervention without justification, as demonstrated in NSA’s gathering of information in any of the many ways it does, reminds me of the controversy that sprang up when social security numbers were first introduced. That was before my time, but the fear of a government having a number associated with every citizen, which was what that controversy was all about, suddenly doesn’t look so irrational to me any longer.