But, you can’t compare these two cases and come away with the same opinions, the same facts and the same disposition.
Bradley Manning, an Army private and very troubled young man, who now claims that he will live as a woman while locked up—sent tens of thousands of emails to WikiLeaks creator, Julian–Assange. The first of it’s kind, the transactions sparked worldwide debate and diplomatic headaches for much of the world’s leaders.
This was not only wrong and illegal but behind the scenes it broke down diplomatic relationships and severed the trust between nations that in some cases took years to build.
Manning should have gone to prison and he should have been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Some, if not most, of the turmoil and chaos we’ve seen in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Sudan and Yemen—just to name a few—are either a direct or indirect causation of the Manning leaks.
A few years ago, Dave Perkins of Jammin’ 99.3, asked me on air what I thought of this situation and he was surprised that I felt Manning should be punished for the leaks. He thought a tree-huggin’ Democratic liberal like me would support the efforts of Manning to deliver the material to Assange and “get the word out” in the name of free speech.
Well, I don’t.
Why Manning was wrong is because he broke the back of diplomatic relationships. Needed relationships to keep peace in the Middle East, learn and discover trends and situations that could affect United States foreign policy—and basically save American lives overseas.
Example: one of the leaked emails was a communication between the U.S. State Department and the president of Yemen. The U.S had bombed a terrorist organization in Yemen and the Yemen president wanted to take credit for the bombing. American agreed because it would help shore up the stability of the president –a man that wasn’t anti-American which in that part of the world is a rare thing—while minimizing the anticipated backlash and retaliation to America for the attack (had it become known American did the bombing).
Here are more examples: the Manning communications exposed the United States and basically caught us with our pants down. Most of the communications were benign with regard to policy—but they did expose America’s desire and willingness to spy on our friends in foreign nations. This, at the least, is discomforting to our friends. The key word should be “was” because it wasn’t that long ago, in diplomatic years, and I would doubt anyone has forgotten about it. I would venture to say we have precious few friends now that actually trust us.
As much as having the world know America thought the Foreign Minister of Japan was an idiot- interesting gossip. Or that the King of Saudi ate Viagra like candy to keep his mojo going was a little funny, at best—it didn’t pose a significant threat to our national security.
What did pose a threat was the lack of communication after the leaks. The world couldn’t trust that their conversations could be safe, secure and remain a secret.
We need to be able to talk to our allies—and our enemies—for that matter so we can get information needed to make foreign policy decisions with at least some precision. We don’t need leaders holding back or failing to follow through with decisions because of the threat of communication leaks and the ramifications of those leaks.
Regardless that a high court ruled yesterday that the NSA spying was probably unconstitutional, Americans are suppose to have privacy rights.
Those privacy rights give us the reasonable expectation that what we say will not come back to bite us in the ass—as long as those communications are within the standard and normal legal and ethical limits.
Now, we learn that the NSA and GCHQ surveillances were tapping everything from cell phones to hard drives without a specific need for the information. The legal steps were never used to obtain our private information and communications. And, the extent and time the NSA used to obtain all that information was unreasonable and maybe criminal.
So, there is a difference—and a big difference between what Snowden did and what Manning did; other than the fact that the latter went to Wikileaks and the other went to the U.K. newspaper, the Guardian.
American government agencies are held to an ethical standard when it comes to obtaining information from Americans. They are also held to a legal standard—that some say was not met.
I will also say that—at least in the Manning case—America was compromised on yet another level not usually mentioned. The upheaval in Egypt with the removal of their former president, and the Syrian situation is—in my mind—a direct result of failed diplomatic effort and smacks to the extent that foreign nations have serious trust issues with American. I’m not saying the State Department could have stopped the Egyptian and Syrian uprising, but we could have mitigated the severity.
It will take tens of years to repair the Manning damage. I hope he wears his new dress in good health.