Leaks make America great again

The day Chelsea Manning has been freed and Trump wished to see journalists arrested

By Raffaele Angius

Trump’s horrendous week, between Russian plots, interference in FBI investigations, and classified information emerging from all sides, has probably given a big headache to the White House tenant.

Last in order is the fact that, according to the New York Times, the tycoon would have asked the FBI director James Comey to drop the investigation on the former National Security Adviser and his relations with Putin’s emissaries. The news has been disruptive and has catalyzed all the attention.

Thus, the same article pointed out what probably deserves more consideration than it has received. According to Comey’s memo on his meeting with the President, which have taken place on February 14th, Trump stated that he wanted to see journalists who published “top secret” information arrested. “Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, affirming that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for having published classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates” Nyt reported. A treatment reserved for Egyptian journalists, in short.

Such a sentence, even out of its context, is scary enough for anyone who made pursuing and telling of the truth his craft. But it is even more hateful and worrying when it comes from the President of the United States, in the Oval Office, while talking with the Head of the Intelligence Agency of a democratic country.

And this is probably the reason why Comey recorded the conversation in his notes since, according to the Nyt’s source, the former FBI director used to write down notes about conversations that could raise controversy. And yes, this is the case.

Ironically, this sentence has emerged thanks to the fact that a newspaper intercepted a leak. And we should praise the whistleblower who leaked it for having raised the alarm. Not that this comes unexpected, but now it will be really interesting to see how pro-Trump media will manage to cover this one. Let’s put it in this way: will pro-Trump media be on the Potus side against the role of journalism, or will they be against their own profession?

A significant interpretation in this sense comes from Bruce Brown, Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press: “Comments such as these, emerging in the way they did, only remind us that every day public servants are reaching out to reporters to ensure the public is aware of the risks today to rule of law in this country. The President remarks should not intimidate the press but inspire it.”

Yet one might say that leaks made United States greater. From the Watergate scandal, based on information released to the Washington Post from a “Deep Throat”, which led to the impeachment of Richard Nixon, to Edward Snowden, whistleblower who exposed the espionage of millions of citizens around the world from the NSA.

It often happened that the leak of information about corruption and wrongdoings saved the very idea of democracy: a corrective to the stuttering of — sometimes too great — power.

Donald Trump himself — it is helpful to remember — declared his love towards Wikileaks during the electoral campaign: “It is amazing how nothing is secret today when you talk about the Internet!”. Except for the fact that, in that case, the one on the gallows pole was Hillary, not him.

Journalism is resilient. And internet is a good place to be. The difference between the dusty Watergate seventies and our century is that we can challenge the Government with one single click.

This is the case with the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which implemented a secure platform to send information while protecting someone’s identity. Whistleblowing runs through the wires, and thanks to this kind of platforms (FP uses securedrop, but there’s others around) anyone who is in possession of sensitive information can disclose it directly to the press.

Though today it is an historical day: Chelsea Manning, the whistleblower who showed the world the “unorthodox” practices of the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for which was sentenced to 35 years in prison, has been freed (thanks to a late intervention by Obama in his last week at the White House). It would then be necessary to rethink about the relationship between journalists, anonymous sources, and power.