Washington, DC, December 16, 2010 - Efforts to tighten the secrecy system and crackdown on leakers and the media will be "fundamentally self-defeating," according to Thomas Blanton, executive director of the National Security Archive, who testified today before the House Committee on the Judiciary. During the first Congressional hearing in the aftermath of "Cablegate" and the Wikileaks release of State Department documents, Blanton urged that lawmakers take a reasoned view of the issues raised by the leaks and not to "overreact."
"There is more heat than light," Blanton stated, citing calls for broadening the Espionage Act and assassinating Wikileaks leader, Julian Assange. Hasty punitive reactions, he predicted, "will actually produce more leaks, more crackdowns, less accountable government, and diminished security."
"History shows we end up doing more damage from the overreaction than from the original leak," according to Blanton.
Blanton reminded lawmakers that the Nixon administration had once considered firebombing the Brookings Institution building to destroy a copy of the Pentagon Papers, and that President Gerald Ford had vetoed the Freedom of Information Act in reaction to government leaks--only to be overruled by the U.S. Congress.
"The real danger of 'Wikimania' is that that we could revert to Cold War notions of secrecy, to the kind of stovepipes and compartments that left us blind before 9/11," Blanton said. He called on lawmakers to protect the First Amendment, rather than adopt a "Chinese model of state control" of information.
"Those voices who argue for a crackdown on leakers and publishers need to face the reality that their approach is fundamentally self-defeating because it will increase government secrecy, reduce our security, and actually encourage more leaks from the continued legitmacy crisis of the classification system," Blanton concluded.
Blanton's testimony can be read in its entirety here. The hearing was broadcast on C-SPAN.
Other witnesses included legal advocate Ralph Nader (who did not submit written testimony), law professors Stephen Vladeck and Geoffrey Stone, attorneys Abbe Lowell and Kenneth Wainstein, and Gabriel Schoenfeld of the Hudson Institute.