Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Russell Tice--Making America Just a Little Less Safe

Per this ABC News report, Russell Tice, a former NSA employee, is one of the people who took the law into his own hands and leaked the anti-terrorist wiretapping activities of the Administration to the New York Times. In so doing, he certainly tipped off terrorists as to the means being used to track them. Likewise, he left us without the secret use of the program. And he did it because he was playing armchair lawyer.

I previously blogged about this, suggesting that the best avenue is to make the problem known within the agency, and then simply to resign, making note of such objections in a resignation letter. Of course, one could follow up, as Tice most recently did, by contacting the chairmen of the Congressional committees overseeing the NSA, and stating that he had concerns that needed addressing, without listing them. And after receiving various assurances that he would only be speaking to people with appropriate security clearances, he could then get into the specifics. That's what a responsible "whistleblower" does when dealing with state secrets.

They don't go to the media and then hide out for over a year. And this whole notion of being a "whistleblower" needs to be debunked. Whistleblowers can save lives. They can put bad guys out of power and in jail. They can stop corruption. And it takes a lot of guts to do that. But in this case, the term is being used as a false rhetorical shield, much like the way that John Kerry and Max Cleland complained that their patriotism was being questioned, when it was really their judgment that was at issue. Indeed, Tice may be a whistleblower, but he may likewise be a traitor. And the criminal nature of what he has done cannot be ignored, especially when there existed a means--the Congressional oversight committees, offices of inspectors general, and the Justice Department, among others--to have such concerns aired while maintaining complete secrecy.

And while the NYT leak was bad enough, the ABC interview is several degrees worse, as a person who wants to retain the clean image of a whistleblower ought to avoid media contact until the matters are resolved, and to the extent that they do not involve classified information.

Which is why I don't consider the guy a hero. He has compromised national security, is making a public name for himself for doing so, all before he actually reports his very specific concerns to the Congress, which at this point, is just a formality to him.

But what I find most interesting is his remarkably cavalier attitude regarding his unauthorized disclosure of classified information, and the relationship between the abuses he alleges and the information he has released. The ABC article lists how the information is gathered, how it is analyzed, and the results of that analysis. But that's what they would have been doing to people whose wiretapping was approved by the FISA court too. So what does that have to do with his concern about "illegal wiretapping?" Or is this person just gratuitously releasing sensitive information to impress his new fans in the media?

He states that his conscience is clear so long as he does not release classified information. But his confusion regarding Constitutional law, apparently extends to his understanding of his responsibilities with state secrets. I cannot imagine the matters revealed in the linked article are not classified, leaving me to wonder whether there is there any other classified material about the program left to leak?

Whatever claims are made about his psychiatric problems, Russell Tice has much for which he must answer. He cannot hide behind the "whistleblower" label to insulate himself from prosecution. There is nothing wrong with whistleblowing, but everything wrong with the way that Tice did it. For his own personal sake, he made America less safe.


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