With stories about Edward Snowden and Bradley/Chelsea Manning in the news, many of us are unsure whether these whistle-blowers are patriots, or traitors, or something in between. As a veteran I am immediately suspicious of secret information that is leaked to the press because I worry that men and women in uniform (as well as those involved in covert operations) might be put in danger. I understand that for military operations to be successful, many things must be kept secret. I also understand that there are many times that it is in the best interests of a nation that others do not know exactly how much we know or how we know it. If we have insiders, spies, or double agents feeding us information from the halls of foreign governments, we probably don’t want those governments to know.
On the other hand, secrecy can go too far. There are things that governments and militaries should not be doing. Even in war, there are things that go too far and which violate our conscience. In government, at least in the government of a free and open society, we expect a certain amount of openness on the part of those in authority. That openness is a large part of what separates a free society from a dictatorship or other authoritarian government.
So where is the line?
When do we decide that government has “gone too far?” But, that is exactly the problem. If the line was clear, many decent people would not have found themselves on the wrong side of it. Particularly in times of war, but also in times of peace, it can be easy to become so focused on what we are doing that we drift over the line. I believe that police officers sincerely want to enforce the law, but sometimes their thirst for justice can compel them to go too far. We have all read stories about the abuses of various law enforcement agencies but I am certain that few of those involved ever intended to become bullies who violated the rights of others.
And that is exactly why we need, and should encourage, whistle-blowers to step forward.
Throughout scripture the followers of God are encouraged to pursue what is good and true and to reject lies and evil. Ephesians 5:11-13 says,
11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.
I am still uncertain as to whether Snowden and Manning are heroes or traitors, but I am leaning toward heroes. I am concerned that they were overzealous in the kind, and in the amount, of information that they released as well as how they released it. I’m not sure that WikiLeaks was the best choice. But on the other hand, some of the things that these men had to say needed to be said. I think the citizens of the United States needed to know the extent of the NSA’s spying and how little oversight it has. I think the world needed to know that torture was being perpetrated by agents of the American government. As a free people, and as followers of God, it is up to us to make sure that our government does not use its power to abuse others and to commit evil.
As citizens, as patriots, and as the followers of God, we must be prepared to take the risk that these men did. We may take the risk of exposing too much or in the wrong places, but our government needs to know that we have the will to do it.
On the day we fear to expose evil, evil wins.