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Where Do You Draw the Line?


Here’s a memorable piece of video on Xkeyscore, featuring Piers Morgan, Glenn Greenwald, James Risen, and Jeffrey Toobin.

Risen and Greenwald get set up by Morgan pretty well to make Toobin look clueless, and silly, in his insistence that Snowden’s done a very valuable thing for American democracy, but nevertheless must pay the price for releasing classified material. This is a village meme running around Washington, New York, and evidently, London, these days.

Yes, Snowden, and to a lesser degree, Manning, have made very valuable contributions to our debate, but people like them and Julian Assange can’t expect to escape paying the price for their actions because being a whistle blower requires martyrdom, right? Everyone has to be sacrificial lambs on the altar of justice like Jesus, Gandhi, and King, right?

Well, no, I really don’t think so. I really don’t think that people who reveal Government overreach, Constitutional violations, and outright crimes (including those against humanity) ought to be subject to criminal prosecutions. Do you? I think the ones who ought to be prosecuted are the law breakers rather than the good citizens seeing injustice and doing something about it. Don’t you?

This gets us to a question raised by Piers Morgan in the video. It’s a question that others have asked in their coverage of Snowden, Assange, and Manning. Here’s Morgan, after acknowledging that he approves of Greenwald’s work:

”. . . When it comes to Edward Snowden, where does the line get drawn? What you can’t have is a license for every single person that has access or authorization to classified material, just spewing it into the public ether on a whim. You can’t have that! So, with modern technology being so all-encompassing, where do you draw the line”?

Well, I have a simple answer to the where do you draw the line question of our media cognoscenti, and my answer isn’t that only martyrdom atones for ripping the mask off law breaking by our Government. First, when it comes to Press people, like Greenwald and Assange, we should have laws reinforcing the first amendment, that absolutely place them beyond prosecution for publishing disclosures of classified information. No exceptions! No ifs, ands, or buts! It corrodes democracy and liberty to tolerate anything else.

And when it comes to the people who disclose classified information to the Press, like Manning and Snowden, I think the line needs to be drawn in the following way. If the disclosures involve unconstitutional, or illegal behavior by Government officials, or their contractors, or programs that when used by Government officials, or their contractors lead to such behavior, then the discloser should be absolutely immune from retaliation, or prosecution by any agency of the US Government. Such a discloser is a whistle blower, and has not only a right, but a duty to disclose such material, and also a right to protection when he or she discloses it.

So that’s it. You draw the line at disclosing law breaking. That’s where you draw the line in a democracy, if you expect to keep that democracy safe. That’s where you draw the line if you don’t want to risk totalitarianism.

We are rapidly traversing the proverbial slippery slope towards fascism. We need to stop right now! We need legislation that will protect whistle blowers from prosecution when they act to protect democracy. And we must not let Executive judgments of the impacts of disclosures on national security, compromise this need to protect those who can save us from ourselves.

When it comes to security and intelligence issues, the Executive is almost always a liar. It comes with the territory.

Whistle blowers are the only effective check and antidote to Executive dishonesty. Once they make things public, they can mobilize the press, the people and Congress to finally act, and protect our freedoms against the development of absolute power, and the absolute corruption that goes with it. Protect them! Honor them! They are our freedom fighters!

Cross-posted from

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Joseph M. Firestone, Ph.D. is Managing Director, CEO of the Knowledge Management Consortium International (KMCI), and Director and co-Instructor of KMCI’s CKIM Certificate program, as well as Director of KMCI’s synchronous, real-time Distance Learning Program. He is also CKO of Executive Information Systems, Inc. a Knowledge and Information Management Consultancy.

Joe is author or co-author of more than 150 articles, white papers, and reports, as well as the following book-length publications: Knowledge Management and Risk Management; A Business Fable, UK: Ark Group, 2008, Risk Intelligence Metrics: An Adaptive Metrics Center Industry Report, Wilmington, DE: KMCI Online Press, 2006, “Has Knowledge management been Done,” Special Issue of The Learning Organization: An International Journal, 12, no. 2, April, 2005, Enterprise Information Portals and Knowledge Management, Burlington, MA: KMCI Press/Butterworth-Heinemann, 2003; Key Issues in The New Knowledge Management, Burlington, MA: KMCI Press/Butterworth-Heinemann, 2003, and Excerpt # 1 from The Open Enterprise, Wilmington, DE: KMCI Online Press, 2003.

Joe is also developer of the web sites,,, and the blog “All Life is Problem Solving” at, and He has taught Political Science at the Graduate and Undergraduate Levels, and has a BA from Cornell University in Government, and MA and Ph.D. degrees in Comparative Politics and International Relations from Michigan State University.