The Manning verdict’s central message, aside from this obvious hypocrisy and the injustices underlying it, is this: if you are a whistleblower in this country, do what Edward Snowden did (and what Daniel Ellsberg suggests): flee America, and fast.
However, if you commit crimes in the name of the state? Bulk up your profile.
There’s a microphone waiting."
— Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), in response to the question, “How worried are you about the current campaign-funding environment?” (The New Republic)
Once again, working through my thoughts - this time on the Manning verdict. Once again, a disclaimer: no legal experience, very little technical knowledge, merely interest in Manning’s dilemma and its broader consequences. I want to hear corrections/comments on this!
I began by trying to figure out whether Manning’s stealing the information was a crime. After all, he had security clearance and plain access. It wasn’t his job to encrypt the data - he just found it and took it. Ultimately it seems to me that stealing information was not the crime; the crime was leaking the information - to anyone. And Manning plead guilty to that, so it’s (unfortunate, but) right that he is convicted for that.
The problem is with his intentions. He is going to be convicted for a misinterpretation of his INTENTIONS, which were ultimately good. He did not mean to tell the enemy - he meant to tell Americans what their own government was up to. So what exactly does the Espionage Act warn against - how could he be prosecuted for this?
The 1917 Espionage Act criminalizes “obtaining information respecting the national defense with intent or reason to believe that the information to be obtained is to be used to the injury of the United States.” (The Free Legal Dictionary)
I think the question is: Which United States are we talking about? Did Manning/Snowden’s actions affect the United States that is the state and all its actors and objectives, or did they affect the people of the United States?
In both cases, there was no discernible intention to aid the enemy. In both cases, in the leakers’ eyes, they were not injuring the US at all but helping it by giving information to US citizens so that they may better influence the actions of their leaders. The learkers’ problem is that the government sees itself, not the citizens, as “the US”. When you leak information, you may be helping the US people but you are hurting the US government. (Unfortunately, the courts are on the government’s side.)