Truman National Security Project

After the Manning Verdict: Courage and Crimes Around Intelligence Reform

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When he announced planned changes to the Patriot Act and other aspects of surveillance programs on Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama made a brave statement that can help restore public confidence in our intelligence and national security infrastructure. That White House announcement was exactly the right thing to do, especially if coupled with continued aggressive criminal prosecutions of leakers like Bradley Manning who received a 35 year prison sentence today.

The President’s announcement continues a public disclosure and debate initiative that is being handled through appropriate legal, policy and government channels. It’s more of his authentic leadership that began earlier this year, along with an announced intent to review all of the standards and processes with which our nation has been battling Al Qaeda and its affiliates under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force. Ultimately, it’s how we decide to continue the fight against these enemies—whether as a mobilized democracy under war authorities, or as a peacetime nation enforcing laws.

As a former U.S. Marine intelligence officer, I deeply value the importance of giving every advantage to our national security professionals over our enemies. As an attorney and editor of legal books on national security law of human rights law, I also see how security can be balanced with civil liberties and privacy. Contrary to a few well-meaning (if alarmist and uninformed voices) on Capitol Hill, balance can be achieved under the Constitutional, legal and policy frameworks.

The leakers advocate no such balance. Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning have breached their commitments to confidentiality and damaged America’s security and reputation without respect for the rule of law. Both Snowden and Manning had recourse to established policies for whistle-blowers that would have allowed them to voice their concerns without undue harm to national security—even the intelligence community has defined policies and protections for people who sincerely fear that government actions violate the law—but chose to ignore them. This is not moral courage, and these men are not heroes.

Despite its difficult missions and a series of poor political decisions related to Iraq’s WMD, waterboarding and Guantanamo Bay under previous administrations; the U.S. intelligence community is more regulated, more humane, and more law-abiding than any other in the world. Don’t believe the propaganda and lies from the criminal Snowden/Manning crowd. If you are an American, you can be proud of your intelligence professionals who have been silently and anonymously serving alongside their uniformed military colleagues in a global struggle since 2001.

As a nation we can now decide if we want to follow troubled young men who seek to destroy our national security infrastructure, or pursue a process to increase oversight under the law, respecting our system of checks and balances and our Constitution.

Andrew Borene is a Truman Defense Council Member.