Why Government Leakers Leak

Reality Leigh Winner was charged this week for passing NSA secrets to the media. Understanding the motivations for leaking can provide important context for the sensitive information leakers divulge. 

The government contractor felt the secretly copied information was explosive. Perhaps it would be the subject of important congressional hearings. But leaking it to the press might also result in something else – life in jail.

Is this about Reality Leigh Winner, the National Security Agency contractor charged this week with leaking a document on Russian hacking to The Intercept? Nope. Daniel Ellsberg, the ex-RAND employee who lit a ferocious national controversy on the Vietnam War by leaking the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971.

Leaks have roiled Washington since long before President Trump took office. The current administration seems particularly prone to insider leaks about the internal politics of the White House. But there have been important, clandestine leaks of US secrets since the nation’s founding. They’ve annoyed lots of Oval Office residents. Mr. Trump is not alone.

What motivates the leakers? Perhaps that’s a key to understanding the persistence of the practice. From the outside, leakers sometimes seem a bit like rigid do-gooders.

…continue reading

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