First broadcast 19 February 2014 at the Sam Adams Awards for Integrity in Intelligence
Hello. Thanks for joining us in congratulating Chelsea Manning on winning the Sam Adams Awards for Integrity in Intelligence.
The Sam Adams Associates tonight will be discussing the merits of Chelsea Manning’s revelations and how she became to be selected for the award.
Unfortunately, I could not be there tonight. I’m going to comment generally on an issue that she raised public to public prominence that is very important but less well acknowledged. That issue is overclassification.
Overclassification – where the government uses the state secrets privilege to withhold secrets from the public – is not related to national security and is otherwise unjustified, and has become a serious problem.
Just a few days ago we saw the Prime Minister of Australia argue that the price of shrimp and clove cigarettes in Indonesia was a matter of national security, a “security matter” in the Australian state.
In the last year, the White House told us that 95 million records have been created, classified and withheld from the public in 2012. That is more than any other year on record and shows a trend where the government is withholding more secrets than ever.
And this is not uniqiue to the United States. Many other Western governments are on the same trajectory. Now this is a concern because documents that we’ve received from Manning showed us that some of this information is unambiguously necessary for public ends.
For example, how can we vote without public evidence of the true cost of the wars in which we are involved? Instances of public corruption, official corruption in nations that we support and allies elsewhere. Or even national participation in torture programmes, rendition programmes and unambigious war crimes. All of these were represented in the Manning leaks.
The foundation of democracy is the consent of the governed. After all, we can’t consent to programmes and policies of which we were never informed. When we follow this to its logical conclusion, we see the corollary, which is the decline of open government.
The decline of democracy begins when the domain of government expands beyond the borders of its publics’ knowledge. When a public is no longer aware of the actions of its officials, it’s no longer aware of what happens beyond closed doors. It can no longer hold the most senior members of its society to the necessary account for serious wrongdoing, because the knowledge of that wrongdoing is itself a secret from them.
I believe we have to remember that the distinguishing strength of democracy is self-correction, that no matter how bad things get, the public – in partnership with a free press – can detect and correct mistakes of policy and well intentioned but misguided officials.
It’s this self-correcting, self-determining form of unapolagetically American government in which Chelsea Manning so valuably participated. It is for this extraordinary act of public service, at an unbelievable personal cost, for which we grant this award and our moral sanction to Chelsea Manning. Thank you.