Thou shall not leak: Thomas Fingar on why leaking classified information is unnecessary and dangerous

Thomas Fingar, 2013 winner of the Sam Adams Awards for Integrity in Intelligence, argues that leaking classified information from within the intelligence services is unnecessary and dangerous.

In determining what needs to be kept secret, time plays a crucial role. (0:50min). Yet, leaking is never a good option in Fingar’s opinion as, at least in the US system, there are official channels available to engage and deal with issues (1:15min). He opposes initiatives like Wikileaks because of the theft of information involved and the loss of control of that information. (2:30min). Mechanisms for dealing with abuse and crime are in place so there should be no need to leak information. (4:20min). The need to make intelligence public very much depends on what it is. Elements of this are protecting sources or protecting the deliberative process or protecting diplomatic relations (6:30min). Intelligence information, and the secrecy related, is crucially to help policy makers make better decisions. (10:00min).

Some intelligence, especially in epidemiology, needs to be kept secret for privacy reasons, but some has to be released to allow for better responses (12:00min). Media are often overstating issues in regard to this because they are interested in sales. That is a structural problem relating to the media (14:00min).

Concerning conflicts like Iran and Iraq the media did provide enough information, Finger says (17:00min). The role of the intelligence community is to provide a second opinion to policy makers so that there may be risks if the intelligence community gets it wrong but these are mitigated by policy making processes (17:50min). The process of collecting and identifying intelligence is often fragmented, making sense of it is therefore often difficult (20:00 min).  Knowing what people need and when is also part of working in intelligence (22:40min). It is the one place that is supposed to have no policy preference.  According to Fingar, this firm division between policy support and policy advocacy is mostly observed (24:00min). Diversity in the intelligence community is important, and meaningful differences in opinion are flagged to officials (25:00min).

 Interview conducted by Josh Black and Judith Bruhn.

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Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford.

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