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Do Americans Have a Right to Know If Their Government Is Incompetent?

A Senate report on Trump administration leaks overstates national security risks.

TrumpPolaris/NewscomA new report put together by the staff of the Senate's Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs warns of an "avalanche" of leaks from President Donald Trump's administration. The report contends these leaks are threats to our country's safety and security, but we should be very wary about accepting such assertions given how little evidence the report provides.

From Inauguration Day to May 25, the report notes, at least 125 stories have appeared in the news that are sourced from "leaked information potentially damaging national security." That's about a leak a day. The authors calculate this is seven times higher than the number of similar leaks in the early months of George W. Bush and Barack Obama's administrations.

The report also argues that many of the leaks present Trump in a "harsh light" and were obviously intended to make him look bad, which was not the case for most early leaks under Bush and Obama. The implication is that people within the intelligence apparatus want to undermine Trump so much that they're willing to compromise national security. The report concludes:

President Trump and his administration have faced apparent leaks on nearly a daily basis, potentially imperiling national security at a time of growing threats at home and abroad. The commander-in-chief needs to be able to effectively manage U.S. security, intelligence operations and foreign relations without worrying that his most private meetings, calls and deliberations will be outed for the entire world to see.

As matter of establishing a baseline of "shared facts" that everybody can agree upon here—it's obviously true that more people working within the Trump administration are willing to leak information to the press that makes the White House look bad than previous administrations. Clearly there are people within the intelligence community and in other positions of prominence who are deeply concerned about the behavior of Trump and his staff. Whether or not their fears are justified, it would be stupid to pretend that the number of unauthorized leaks hasn't gone up.

But it would also be stupid to blindly accept the assertion that these leaks all have the potential to damage national security. The report does not go through any of these news stories to detail what American interest is threatened by the leak of confidential information. It merely argues that the threat exists because the disclosures violate the law. At one point the report even says that the justifications people often use for leaks—that they're bringing to light illegal behavior or bad policies—don't have any legal foundation. This is often true, which is why Edward Snowden is hiding in Russia rather than arguing his case in the American courts. But the implication is that the government should punish leakers even when they provide valuable, vital information to the public.

As if to undercut the report's argument, the appendix lists all the headlines, media outlets, and bylines of the news stories written from these leaks. Do these sound like stories that threaten national security, or are these stories that provide information Americans should know about their government's or president's behavior?

That last story is particularly important, because it details how our own National Security Agency is responsible for the tools being used in some very dangerous cybersecurity breaches across the world, possibly by other states, such as North Korea. That's a story about government competence and consequences. The American people should know that the massive WannaCry ransomware incident is a direct result of our own government's actions.

The report's authors also decided to classify fired FBI Director James Comey's public disclosures about his private conversations with Trump as potentially damaging "leaks." These are conversations where Comey claims the president attempted to influence him into ending the FBI's investigation of former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. And so many of the news reports that are the result of Comey's memos ending up in the media are on the list.

Here's a thought exercise: Imagine all those headlines originated from Obama's administration, not Trump's. Wouldn't we want to know how an operation in Yemen went bad under Obama's leadership? Wouldn't we want to know if his own agencies disagreed with the need for some of his policies? Wouldn't we want to know if he loses his temper with the leader of another country? Rather than highlighting the dangers of leaks within the Trump administration, this list frankly should make us angry that we didn't get more leaks under Obama and Bush.

Photo Credit: Polaris/Newscom

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  • Dillinger||

    can a government *be* competent?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Well, government can certainly try and do the limited tasks assigned to it if politicians and bureaucrats would just focus on that.

    Instead we have crony capitalism, huge debt, huge welfare programs and government official blatantly violating the constitution.

  • Dillinger||

    >>>do the limited tasks assigned to it if politicians and bureaucrats would just focus on that

    total agreement. when did that ever happen?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    A loooong time ago in a galaxy far far away....

  • Quixote||

    There is obviously no right to know anything of the sort—where would such nonsense end? Would there be a right, for example, to know that an academic department chairman is an alleged plagiarist? Such "information" is highly damaging to the reputations of the allegedly "incompetent" or "unprofessional" individuals involved, and must always be discreetly suppressed—through all necessary means, including effective use of state-sanctioned violence, police investigations, and aggressive implementation of all available anti-"whistle-blower" measures, no matter what the context. See, for example, the documentation of America's leading criminal "satire" case at:

    https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I wouldn't have placed Crony Capitalism first on that list by a damn sight. What goes first is the old assumption that "The King" can fix anything. The Founders were flaming radicals; they thought that government should be strictly limited, and embodied that thought in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. And, like many people trying out a radical idea, they started backsliding almost immediately.

    The core issue is that we look to the State to do far too goddamned much. Cronyism would be far less of a problem, if the State had less authority.Pretty much everything on your list follows that, as flies follow dung.

  • gaoxiaen||

    No.

  • Liberty =><= Equality||

    Govts tend to be very competent at killing people and destroying things.

  • Liberty =><= Equality||

    And this is not intended as sarcasm -- those are the main legitimate functions of govt.

  • Ragoftag||

    Nope, those are ways to protect the primary function: stealing anything of vale including self and hope.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    "President Trump and his administration have faced apparent leaks on nearly a daily basis, potentially imperiling national security at a time of growing threats at home and abroad. "
    Maybe The Trump Administration is behind the leaks. Trump is constantly on twitter talking about policy and strategies.

    I think people think that leaks are hurting this Trump Administration but he and his cabinet are moving forward with dismantling government. If Congress would get their ass in gear and repeal ObamaCare and simplify the tax code, even some of you might come on board that Trump is doing okay.

  • Calidissident||

    Lol

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I think you misspelled "Hillary lost the election"

  • Calidissident||

    Ok? Good for Trump, I don't care about Hillary. Him winning doesn't make him some covert libertarian operative.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Libertarian operative? How does that fit in with Russian operative?

    That must be the new buzz word for not being to admit that some of Trump has accomplished has furthered the Libertarian cause. Gorsuch, school vouchers, EO repeal 2 for 1....

  • Calidissident||

    I did pick up that phrase from Citizen X's comment below as I thought it fit. Gorsuch was a decent pick, we'll see how he holds up during his time on SCOTUS. What has Trump done about school vouchers? He's in favor of them, but has he actually accomplished anything? Also, education is something that should be handled by the states. The EO sounds nice, what it will actually accomplish remains to be seen. That's a pretty weak list. No one's saying Trump is literally Hitler and never does anything a libertarian could be ok with. You could cherrypick a few things Obama did that were palatable to libertarians, that doesn't mean he was a great libertarian president.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Trump nominated a school voucher advocate and if the news would cover that story, we would have a progress status on how that is coming. I agree that states should handle education, I would advocate that even states get out of education and let counties or private parties run schools.

    Once again with the repeal EO, the media does not cover its effects. How are we supposed to know if it is doing anything? Forcing bureaucrats to repeal 2 rules for every new rule seems like it would make more rule creating more difficult.

    People are actually equating Trump with Hitler.

    Name a single thing that Obama did that was palatable to Libertarians? Extra-judicial murder with drones? ObamaCare? Nominate Kagan? Nominate Sotomayer? TARP?

    Trump has only been president for 6 months (not 8 years) and done those things. Congress is a major roadblock to repealing ObamaCare and tax reform.

  • Calidissident||

    You realize Trump has continued and expanded the use of drones? Your argument's pretty weak if you have to resort to "Well we don't know but the media won't talk about it!!" as if we don't live in the Information Age and there aren't news outlets that aren't MSNBC, CNN, or Huffington Post. And Trump hasn't done shit to get Obamacare repealed because he knows nothing about the subject and his thoughts on it have been all over the place. One day he's holding a celebration because the House passed a bill, and then a few weeks later he's saying the bill is really mean.

    Obama didn't do much, but like Trump you could point to a few modest improvements. He was mildly better than Bush on criminal justice reform and didn't start an Iraq-sized war abroad although he had plenty of foreign policy mishaps such as the drone strikes we've discussed. Overall, both were/have been pretty bad for libertarians.

    And no one here thinks Trump is equivalent to Hitler, take those complaints to HuffPo.

  • Jay Dubya||

    Well put on all fronts cali. I'm glad there still a few libertarians in the comments here.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    Wrong. You clearly care about Hillary. You voted for her and can't accept that she lost.

  • Calidissident||

    /S?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Its not sarcasm. Hillary lost.

    Did you not get the left's narrative memo?

  • Calidissident||

    I don't believe you were the person I was replying to. I certainly did not vote for Hillary and don't have trouble accepting she lost. So if it wasn't sarcasm, it's simply inaccurate.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    (sorry, I wanted to wait for more material to be posted)

    Not sarc. You are a lefty activist merely acting like a libertarian, because there is great value in making others think you're libertarian and you need that comfort after Hillary's loss.

  • Calidissident||

    I have to say I'm struck by Poe's Law right now. Posting on Reason.com as a secret lefty pretending to be libertarian seems like an extremely rewarding and valuable endeavor to undertake.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Ok, this is hilarious.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Which part, funny guy?

    Didn't Trump leak a few pages of his tax return before the press was going to run a story?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Did he or did he not brag about all the times he's benefited directly from the exercise of eminent domain? I don't know and i don't really care what Trump leaked, but it is really, really funny that you keep claiming that an out-and-proud cronyist is actually some sort of deep cover libertarian operative.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Trump is not a Libertarian and yet does more to forward Libertarian solutions than some LINOs.

    And I was gung-ho when joining the military, only to later embrace the NAP and demand that hawks like McCain shut the fuck up and sit down instead of getting the USA into more foreign entanglements.

    Actions speak louder than words, perhaps?

    You don't have to be a Trump fan to point out what Trump is getting right. Trump's military raids are a mistake.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    and yet does more to forward Libertarian solutions than some LINOs

    We live in a crazy world, and all things are possible, but i'll believe that when i see it.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    So... Gorsuch, school vouchers, EO repeal 2 for 1 do not convince you a tiny bit?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    None of those things you list have done anything yet. Gorsuch might be ok, and some of Trump's other cabinet picks do give cause for optimism. We'll see. Meanwhile, however, fucking Jeff Sessions hit the ground running on his first day in office.

    Anyway, Trump's whole thing for thirty years now has been talking up big plans and then, later, quietly flying away in a helicopter while those plans file bankruptcy.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    So, Jeff Sessions is your worst nightmare?

    What has he done differently than any Attorney general in the last 20 years? Do you really expect an attorney general to not enforce drug law when Congress refuses to repeal those laws? That would be selective enforcement.

    Don't believe all the media hype. Drugs are still moving toward legalization.

    The proper move is for Congress to make all drugs (or more realistically weed) legal.

  • Crusty Juggler > You||

    That would be selective enforcement.

    Get the fuck out of here!

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Not enforcing laws on the books is not selective enforcement?

    Simple solution: Get drug laws off the books so no cop, prosecutor, or court can criminalize drug use or possession.

  • Crusty Juggler > You||

    Is Sessions enforcing every federal law? The answer is no.

    He is practicing selective enforcement.

    Simple solution: Get drug laws off the books so no cop, prosecutor, or court can criminalize drug use or possession.

    It's not simple, bud.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Which laws is he directing Attorney generals not to enforce? Be specific now.

    You want him to ignore drug laws and hate him because he won't.

    Get Congressman to repeal drug laws.

    It's that simple, bud.

  • bacchys||

    He is the Attorney General. He doesn't direct state Attorneys General. He directs United States District Attorneys.

    There are many laws he doesn't enforce and has directed the USDA's to basically ignore, such as 18 USC 242.

  • pan fried wylie||

    None of those things you list have done anything yet.

    Aside from spouting bullshit, exactly what has Sessions gotten done so far?

  • bacchys||

    What has Trump done to advance Libertarian solutions?

    Nothing. He's an authoritarian buffoon. *Maybe* Gorsuch is a decent pick. We'll see. But if he does it'll be more by accident than design.

  • Dillinger||

    >>>even some of you might come on board that Trump is doing okay.

    i think this is your lol-line...unicorns surfing more likely.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    That's your opinion. It is very clear who here will never admit Trump does anything to further the Libertarian cause because.... TDS.

    Notice how the media barely covers military operations currently taking place. These military operations are the biggest mistake Trump has made so far.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    That's your opinion.

    Rekt.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    And that's the opinion coming from the likes of you.

    *drops mic

  • Dillinger||

    >>>That's your opinion.

    not arguing, just pointing to where you may have dissonance with the posters...

    >>he and his cabinet are moving forward with dismantling government.

    sweet

    >>If Congress would get their ass in gear

    unlikely

    >>even some of you might come on board that Trump is doing okay.

    surfing unicorns

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I know that I am one of the few people here pointing out what Trump does good and bad. Its mostly TDS here.

    As I said in another comment, Trump has continued military operations from previous presidents and gone into Syria and Yemen which were/are huge mistakes.

    Since these operations are anti-NAP, why doesn't Reason and Libertarian commenters discuss this more?
    Because you don't get invited to parties if you point out what Trump is doing satisfactorily to change government.

  • Calidissident||

    Yeah man, we're all just submitting our posts on Reason.com on our party applications. You're hardly some lone voice in the wilderness here who thinks Trump isn't entirely wrong 100% of the time. Most people here just think he's overall a bad president, the same as his predecessors.

  • paranoid android||

    I was worried the hyperbole and hypocrisy of Trump's critics would drive me into supporting him, until I heard the shit his supporters spout. I imagine by the end of this I'll be a fervent seasteading activist.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Paranoid: You will never support Trump's good deeds because Hillary did not win.

    We have plenty of lefty activists on here acting like Libertarians.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Cali: Trump is as bad as W. Bush and Obama?

    See that rationale is why I know you are not being honest about you are some voice advocating Trump's good and bad.

  • Calidissident||

    Trump's been president for 6 months. Sure you can say he hasn't done as much damage as them, but he's been president for 1/16th the time. Thus far he hasn't done anything to represent a significant improvement overall. He's continued their policies on surveillance. For all his bluster he's pretty much continued or expanded warmaking abroad. He rolled over on his first budget battle. He's unleashed Jeff Sessions on the country. I'm sorry I don't find a few cherrypicked things, pretty much all of which have had no impact as of now, to significantly outweigh all that. Just because someone doesn't share your positive view of Trump doesn't mean they aren't honest.

  • Dillinger||

    I'm the last New Jersey Generals fan.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    I know that I am one of the few people here pointing out what Trump does good and bad.

    Along with the writers and most of the commenters.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Good one. Thanks for the laugh today.

    Its TDS all over the place at Reason.

    Reason will have an article about American troops in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan any day now.

    There was an article about Afghani girls unable to get to the USA but no story on Americans getting killed there recently.
    Americans die in Afghanistan June 2017

  • Dillinger||

    this was funny.

  • Crusty Juggler > You||

    he and his cabinet are moving forward with dismantling government

    By...increasing the budget and approving of Jeff Sessions' federal law enforcement policies?

    some of you might come on board that Trump is doing okay.

    As has been stated many times, libertarian-minded individuals should be hopeful Trump continues to do whatever he can to encourage deregulation. Other than that, I don't see where Trump has done anything helpful, feel free to prove me wrong.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    "By...increasing the budget and approving of Jeff Sessions' federal law enforcement policies?"


    You know what he has done. Nominate Gorsuch, school vouchers, EO repeal 2 for 1....

    "As has been stated many times, libertarian-minded individuals should be hopeful Trump continues to do whatever he can to encourage deregulation. Other than that, I don't see where Trump has done anything helpful, feel free to prove me wrong."


    I agree on Trump deregulating and see above.

  • Crusty Juggler > You||

    A Supreme Court nominee and an executive order are part of his plan to dismantle the government, and the budget increase and whatever the fuck Sessions' plans are...also part of the plan?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Yup. You have to start somewhere.

    Congress is the hold up on ObamaCare repeal and tax reform.

    Trump, unlike the Hitler they portray him as cannot do Congress' job for them.

  • Crusty Juggler > You||

    unlike the Hitler they portray him as

    You keep repeating this as though if the commenters on this board consistently refer to Trump as Hitler.

    I don't think he is Hitler - I think he is an incompetent, cronyist authoritarian who I hope will do some good things, and hopefully not too many bad things.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    7 times Trump compared to Hitler

    Only very few commenters at Reason equate Hitler and Trump. Lefties do it a lot.

    You think Trump is incompetent but hope he will do some good things. How does that work? Trump being incompetent according to you means by definition that he incapable of doing a good job.

    I can clearly see that you will be upset when Trump goes down as a fairly decent president and happy if Trump never gets any more government dismantling done.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Uh oh. The incompetent worked with Russia to an agreement on curbing violence in Syria.

  • Rhywun||

    The report also argues that many of the leaks present Trump in a "harsh light" and were obviously intended to make him look bad, which was not the case for most early leaks under Bush and Obama.

    LOL, you think? Washington bureaucrats lean heavily Democratic and even the ones who don't are very much into protecting their turf.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Do Americans Have a Right to Know If Their Government Is Incompetent?

    I don't think most Americans have a choice of knowing that their government is incompetent.

    This is mostly a good thing from a libertarian standpoint.

  • Sevo||

    "I don't think most Americans have a choice of knowing that their government is incompetent."

    I'm afraid quite a few think it IS competent.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    That's denial at this point, which hopefully comes soon before acceptance.

  • Longtobefree||

    Too late. We already know.

  • Liberty =><= Equality||

    Wouldn't we want to know how an operation in Yemen went bad under Obama's leadership? Wouldn't we want to know if his own agencies disagreed with the need for some of his policies? Wouldn't we want to know if he loses his temper with the leader of another country?

    There's a difference between wanting to know and having a right to know, and each of those cases involves a trade-off. Our enemies in Yemen would certainly benefit from knowing what we know about what went wrong with that raid. The president's staff will be less likely to be frank when evaluating policies in internal memos if it is known that they will be made public and used by his political enemies. Likewise with the president's diplomatic discussions.

    And of course, just because with 20/20 hindsight we see that none of these leaks wound up impacting national security, does not mean that the leakers knew that when the leaks occurred.

  • Devastator||

    "our enemies in yemen" ?? How about our enemies in Saudia Arabia, in numbers and $$ that dwarf anything going on in Yemen.

  • Amogin||

    So the leaks aren't deemed serious by anyone but Homeland Security, led by a Trump appointee. But the failure to stop them certainly points to governmental incomppetence. Thye same people who pilloried the Obama administration's failure to protect Americans during the attacks at Benghazi are now claiming that governemtnal incompetence shouldn'
    t be overblown as a concern . Strange, if you bought a car that had a potential to blow up- wouldn't you want to know- even if nothing had gone wrong yet? The American people pay a lot to run their government. Surely basic competence and oversight is not to much to ask. The Republicans are lways claiming they are the party of individual responsibility and indvidual choice . Isnb't it about time they took responsibility for seeing the government their party controls behaves responsibly with a minimum degree ofcompetence?.

  • patskelley||

    You mean "Do Americans Have a Right to 'confirm their suspicions that" Their Government Is Incompetent?

  • SamHell||

    Are there not already laws in place to prevent and prosecute leaks? Why aren't folks being fired en mass, why aren't they being prosecuted? Everyone in Washington can go fuck themselves, incestuous caviar eating rules for thee but not for me cock sucking boot licking shit heels. They won't even scrape the corruption that cling like barnacles off each other, better to build up an unsustainable wall of shit and quitely slip beneath the waves than draw attention to any problems.

  • Devastator||

    The report also argues that many of the leaks present Trump in a "harsh light" and were obviously intended to make him look bad, which was not the case for most early leaks under Bush and Obama. --quote from article

    Guess what Trump is the one giving them unlimited sources of material given his utter buffoonery.

  • Tony||

    Nuh uh he's a totally serious person. Totally. And his hair is awesome.

  • Mark22||

    That's like asking "Do Catholics have the right to know that the Pope is Catholic?"

  • And you believe that why?||

    I haven't read the article yet, but, I don't feel I need to. I already know our government is incompetent. It's filled with Democrats and Republicans.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Tangent;

    I despise the government, in general. It is lumbering, incompetent, expensive, and possessed of a sense of self-importance that the facts do not support. However, there are a few, a very few things that it does well.

    For some reason the Post Office (yes, I know, it's supposedly a semi-independent enterprise. Pull the other one, it has bells on it) is really very good at choosing graphic art for its stamps. Would God that Hollywood could say the same of its movie posters. Maybe the Post Office could rent out the services of its Stamp Art Selection board (or whatever). Because I'm sick to the teeth of film posters that look like they were composed by a nine year old with Photoshop.

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