With respect to your interview with Bart Gellman ’82 on the Edward Snowden leaks (Q&A, Jan. 8), a couple of points:
First, Gellman seems to have had little concern about publishing information that is classified at the highest level. Why? He claims that he thought through “what the public interest is ... .” Fair enough. But in our political system, the president, who is elected by the people, is charged with determining how and if government information is classified. Bart was not elected by anybody. Moreover, he has few, if any, qualifications for determining what the public interest is. His notional “public” well might conclude that keeping the nation safe is more important than revealing information that is certainly of great interest — to our enemies.
Second, Gellman claims to have “st[uck] to the letter and the spirit of the law ... .” Puhleeze! By his own admission, Snowden committed a number of felonies. Under at least some theories of the law, Gellman was an aider and abettor.
Third, Gellman tries to turn Snowden into a folk hero because he “believed he was witnessing an out-of-control surveillance state.” Had Snowden really felt that way, there were numerous outlets, wholly legal, that would have given his views a full and sympathetic airing: the National Security Agency and Defense Department inspectors general, the Department of Justice, the Hill intel committees, and the U.S. attorney’s office. But they would not have afforded him what he apparently desperately wants: the ego stroke that going public provides. It is worth at least asking the question whether an honorable person would violate an oath of office to keep secrets that have been entrusted to him.
Finally, to be sure, “transparency serves the public good” in many contexts. But transparency with respect to the conduct of intelligence may be incredibly costly. It might have been worthwhile for your interviewer to ask Gellman what price he is willing to pay for telling our adversaries the sources and methods we employ for obtaining intelligence.