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Leaks: Truth is the Main Issue, not Legality

POTUS tweets:

What is striking about this (and all past rantings about leaks) is that there is rarely a claim that the leaked information is untrue.

I am not a lawyer nor am I am an expert on leaks. Still, I do know that some leaks can be illegal while others may be legal. Some exist in a gray area. And, certainly, a given leak may be legal, but unethical. However, the bottom line when it comes to information is that it is either true, or untrue, regardless of how the information was disseminated.

BTW, quite frankly, Trump’s definition of “FAKE NEWS” is not news that is untrue or fabricated.  It is news he doesn’t like.

(The pardon issue is a whoooole other issue…).

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. RM says:

    The main issue is that there has been a concerted effort to undermine the Trump presidency, starting after the election by both the Democrats in Congress and the deep state. The Obama administration used the intel community to spy on Trump and associates and anti-Trump people in the IC leaked intel for political purposes.

    Among other results of these leaks, Russia now knows that NSA can break their crypto so you’ve got to believe that they’ll change codes/methods to better encrypt their communications. This damages national security regardless of the truth of the Russian ambassador saying toMoscoe that he talked to Jeff Sessions about how the Trump campaign was doing.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 22

  2. Moosebreath says:

    @RM:

    “The main issue is that there has been a concerted effort to undermine the Trump presidency, starting after the election by both the Democrats in Congress and the deep state. The Obama administration used the intel community to spy on Trump and associates and anti-Trump people in the IC leaked intel for political purposes.”

    When every word you say is a lie, then the only proper response is:

    click.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  3. MarkedMan says:

    The main issue is that the Republican party nominated and supported a criminally corrupt man without the intellect, capacity or work ethic for the job and the people who pulled the lever for Trump failed their country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  4. Gustopher says:

    I would say that, even more important than truth, or legality, is whether the leak serves the interests of the country. Note that country here does not mean the president or the government, but the country.

    Exposing significant wrongdoing is a good thing.

    Exposing efforts to suppress an investigation into serious charges is a good thing — I don’t know* that the Trump administration collaborated with the Russian government, but the Russian government’s influence on the election needs to be understood, and the influence on the current administration.

    There are lots of true leaks that would damage America — information about intelligence gathering, and who has agents where. There are false leaks that would help America — muddying the waters on exposed confidential information, for instance.

    (*The Trump administration has pretty much made me believe that they are covering up collusion, but I don’t *know* it)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. Gustopher says:

    @RM: after the Snowden leaks, the Russians know our capabilities to intercept communications. That ship has sailed.

    Nice try, though.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  6. @Gustopher: My point is this: once the info is out, it is either true or not true regardless of the legality or ethics of the information’s release.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. (And that Trump’s concerns are about stopping damaging information, not why the information is damaging).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. @RM: The Trump administration has been self-undermining from the word go.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  9. @RM: The Trump administration has been self-undermining from the word go.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. James Pearce says:

    @RM:

    The main issue is that there has been a concerted effort to undermine the Trump presidency, starting after the election by both the Democrats in Congress and the deep state.

    Trump ran so he could fight the Democrats and the “deep state.”

    If anything, the “main issue” is that he’s a big mouth unprepared for the fight he signed up for, and the “secondary issue” is that he’s got a bunch of supporters that are okay with a president who puts more effort into complaining about his job than doing it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  11. Andy says:

    The leaks that purport to contain information from US signals intelligence activity against Russian diplomatic communications are not only illegal but also extremely damaging to US intelligence capabilities against the Russians. Here is the latest example:

    Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show – The Washington Post

    This leak damages our ability to collect on the Russians. This leak tell the Russians that we have broken their diplomatic communication security. Guess what they are doing right now? Upgrading their encryption. One of our sources for Russian intelligence will go dark – all because someone with a high level clearance wanted to score some domestic political points.

    These kinds of leaks used to be very rare, but this is the new America where damaging political appointments trumps every other consideration.

    People should consider the potential consequences of utilizing US intelligence capabilities for domestic political purposes. This is a road we do not want to go down.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Andy says:

    @Andy:

    …that should be opponents, not appointments.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. @Andy: The funny thing about that leak in this context is that it was probably leaked by a Trump ally given the Trump-Sessions tensions this week.

    While I will reserve final judgment on whether this really damages sigint, my immediate response is: they know we are listening, so I am not sure this is some breech. Indeed, it is wholly possible the info in the leak is false because the Russians may have been being untruthful to sew more discord because they knew they were being overheard.

    Still my point is not to comprehensively discuss the ins, outs, ethics, and ramifications of leaks, it is to point out that the president has to deal with the veracity of the information exposed beyond just calling the leaks illegal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. James Pearce says:

    @Andy:

    This leak tell the Russians that we have broken their diplomatic communication security.

    You sure Sessions didn’t tell them that in the secret meeting? Maybe Trump blabbed when he was slapping backs with Kislyak?

    The Russians know one thing, leaks or no: Donald Trump isn’t their enemy. He’s their stooge.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  15. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Well, I don’t really care who the leaker is.

    It does damage sigint, your immediate reaction is wrong. Most people do not assume they are being monitored, even when they are using an unencrypted communication link. I think if you survey people who are experts in this area they will tell you that this is not a trivial matter.

    Still my point is not to comprehensively discuss the ins, outs, ethics, and ramifications of leaks, it is to point out that the president has to deal with the veracity of the information exposed beyond just calling the leaks illegal.

    I get that. My point is that the ramifications of these leaks, especially their normalization as a domestic political tool, is much more serious than any ephemeral Presidential reactions to the information itself. However Trump deals with this, it will pass from the news cycle quickly. The damage to intelligence sources and the normalization of weaponized intelligence will not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. Andy says:

    @James Pearce:

    You sure Sessions didn’t tell them that in the secret meeting? Maybe Trump blabbed when he was slapping backs with Kislyak?

    Yes I’m sure. Read the first two paragraphs of the Wapo article.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Here’s Pat Lang, a former Green Beret and long-time intelligence professional, writing about a similar set of leaks last month:

    But, pilgrims, none of that is important when compared to the massive intelligence defeat suffered by the US in that the GRU now know that US SIGINT has been reading their internal communications traffic for years. Given this revelation and the earlier CNN “scoop” given to Dana Bash by US spies concerning US penetration of Russian diplomatic communications I would think it likely that the Russian government will conclude that ALL their communications are compromised. Having reached that conclusion they will set out to build completely new systems for the whole Russian government.

    It will take billions of dollars and years of work to break into these new systems, Until that is achieved US intelligence will be rather close to blind. Some of you will rejoice in that, but you should not. The insight provided by SIGINT into potentially hostile acts and motives have often kept the world from nuclear war.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. James Pearce says:

    @Andy:

    Read the first two paragraphs of the Wapo article.

    The ones talking about how Sessions was discussing campaign matters with Kislyak, who then went and told everyone in Moscow what they were talking about?

    Look, I’m no fan of leaks. Snowden’s a traitor and Chelsea Manning should still be in jail. But the leaks aren’t the problem here. The Trump administration is.

    All due respect to Pat Lang, but it will take billions of dollars and years to rebuild our Russian SIGINT systems not because someone leaked info indicating Jeff Sessions perjured himself, but because the Trump Administration thinks the Russians are their friends.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  19. Andy says:

    @James Pearce:

    All due respect to Pat Lang, but it will take billions of dollars and years to rebuild our Russian SIGINT systems not because someone leaked info indicating Jeff Sessions perjured himself, but because the Trump Administration thinks the Russians are their friends.

    So you are no fan of leaks but believe they are justified?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. James Pearce says:

    @Andy:

    So you are no fan of leaks but believe they are justified?

    As a matter of general principle, they certainly can be.

    What did you think of Hillary’s e-mails being leaked? Good, bad, “it’s complicated?” Just curious.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Andy says:

    @James Pearce:

    Just curious.

    I’m sure.

    The Clinton email leaks are not comparable since they did not compromise intelligence sources and methods (except the ones that were actually classified, which should never have been on her personal email system to begin with). However, they were part of an active FBI criminal investigation and I don’t think leaks concerning criminal investigations are justified except in very rare cases (ie. corruption or illegal action of the investigation itself).

    More generally I find it disturbing that so many politically zealous people are disingenuous when it comes to leaks that damage national security or criminal investigations – the only leaks they care about are those that damage their own side. Trump is a perfect example of this, but he is hardly alone.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  22. James Pearce says:

    @Andy:

    The Clinton email leaks are not comparable

    Sure, they are. Clinton’s e-mails were hacked for one reason: so they could be leaked.

    More generally I find it disturbing that so many politically zealous people are disingenuous when it comes to leaks that damage national security or criminal investigations

    Politically zealous people are disingenuous, though, and I wish I could be disturbed by it, but instead I just try not to be politically zealous.

    By the way, “Leaks are okay as long as they don’t compromise intelligence sources and methods” is no stouter principle than “Leaks are okay as long as they damage the other side.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  23. al-Ameda says:

    @RM:

    The main issue is that there has been a concerted effort to undermine the Trump presidency, starting after the election by both the Democrats in Congress and the deep state.

    L O L
    You do realize that Democrats have had nothing to do with the chaotic mess that is the Trump Administration. And … “Deep State”? Yeah, whatever helps you get through a 24 hour news cycle.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  24. Andy says:

    @James Pearce:

    Sure, they are. Clinton’s e-mails were hacked for one reason: so they could be leaked.

    You missed the second half of the sentence you quoted.

    By the way, “Leaks are okay as long as they don’t compromise intelligence sources and methods” is no stouter principle than “Leaks are okay as long as they damage the other side.”

    Well, that is an interesting view. I suppose I can see how some could consider damage to intelligence operations against Russia and other foreign nations as equivalent in principle to partisan hackery, but I am definitely not one of them. I’m still a “politics ends at the water’s edge” kind of guy, but that seems to have fallen out of fashion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. Pete S says:

    Maybe I am being obtuse, but if it is an illegal leak of classified information then how could it simultaneously be fake? I don’t imagine the intelligence services make up stories out of whole cloth and then classify them. A source could be leaking or they could be making something up but they really cannot be doing both.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. Gustopher says:

    @Andy: Snowden already exposed all of that. And, if there was any lingering doubt, the leaks that your Green Beret is quoted as complaining about made that very clear. And many previous stories about this.

    Yes, we should not be exposing intelligence capabilities.

    With regards to Russian diplomats being successfully monitored, that ship sailed long ago.Theres nothing that can be done about that.

    I am still hopeful that the Presidential leak of assets inside ISIS that was then confirmed by the President to be Israel was a ruse — claim there is an Israeli asset when there isn’t to help cover the Jordanian asset. Not very hopeful, since these people are idiots, but mildly hopeful.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. James Pearce says:

    @Andy:

    You missed the second half of the sentence you quoted.

    Did I? To be clear, I disagreed with “not comparable since they did not compromise intelligence sources and methods,” which to be brutally honest strikes me as some WatchMojo-style compartmentalizing. “Top 10 Leaks, but we’re only talking about leaks that compromised intelligence sources and methods, so we won’t be talking about a certain Secretary of State’s private e-mail server.”

    Of course they’re comparable.

    To be fair, I appreciate the consistency on leaks viz a viz active criminal investigations.

    I’m still a “politics ends at the water’s edge” kind of guy, but that seems to have fallen out of fashion.

    Oh it has, big time. While he was running for president, Trump said into a microphone in front of a crowd with cameras rolling, “I will tell you this, Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

    This is not a guy who takes “politics ends at the water’s edge” very seriously. This is a guy who would get into bed with Russian spies to win an election. I don’t have to say that.

    He said it himself.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  28. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    Yes, we should not be exposing intelligence capabilities.

    With regards to Russian diplomats being successfully monitored, that ship sailed long ago.Theres nothing that can be done about that.

    This is contradictory. If the Russians already have everything, as you suggest, then there are no capabilities to expose…but we should not expose capabilities? That argument only works if you know which ships have sailed and which have not which no one on this forum does.

    I see variations of this argument a lot – an attempt to lessen the impact of disclosing our foreign intelligence capabilities through conjecture that it really isn’t a disclosure at all because of Snowden or whatever. That’s like saying I shouldn’t bother to protect my SSN because it’s already been hacked and distributed online.

    I am still hopeful that the Presidential leak of assets inside ISIS that was then confirmed by the President to be Israel was a ruse — claim there is an Israeli asset when there isn’t to help cover the Jordanian asset. Not very hopeful, since these people are idiots, but mildly hopeful.

    Ironic that all the details of that intelligence were leaked to damage Trump.

    Some anonymous officials were so outraged that Trump would discuss this with the Russians in confidence that they felt they had no choice but to leak it all to the world, including ISIS. It’s cognitive dissonance on an epic scale that might have killed an asset in ISIS. This is probably the most egregious example of what I’ve been talking about in this thread.

    Again, people should consider the long-term implications of normalizing the use of foreign intelligence and the intelligence community in domestic political fights. It shouldn’t be minimized or brushed off.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. Andy says:

    @James Pearce:

    Of course they’re comparable.

    We both have our opinions on the matter and it’s clear we will not agree. People can decide for themselves who has the better argument.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. James Pearce says:

    @Andy:

    People can decide for themselves who has the better argument.

    I have my doubts on whether this is possible –experience– but I’m content to disagree.

    (Perhaps too content sometimes.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. wr says:

    @RM: Shorter RM — “There’s nothing too stupid for me to believe as long as Trump says it.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0