During a recent hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director James Comey argued that Wikileaks, the non-profit organization known for making classified information available to the public, is not a true journalistic organization and therefore isn’t protected by the First Amendment.
“There are Americans… who think that Wikileaks might just be a journalistic outfit,” said Republican Senator Ben Sasse. “Can you explain why that is not your view?” Comey responded by first stating “all of us care deeply about the First Amendment and the ability of a free press to get information about our work and publish it.” But then, Comey let the other boot drop: “To my mind it crosses a line when it moves from being about trying to educate a public and instead becomes about intelligence porn.”
Intelligence porn? With all due respect, does James Comey really believe that Wikileaks and the work of the organization’s founder Julian Assange are nothing more than intelligence porn?
Comey went on to explain that Wikileaks is just putting out information “to damage the United States,” adding, “I realize reasonable people struggle to draw a line but surely there’s conduct that’s so far to the side of the line that we can all agree that there is nothing that even smells journalist about some of this conduct.”
Set aside the definition of journalism for a moment and consider the difference between right and wrong. Wikileaks was able to obtain crucial information regarding the practices that go on within the FBI and the CIA, some of which are severe violations of our most basic rights. For example, Wikileaks revealed earlier this year that the Central Intelligence Agency has the ability to hack into automobiles and potentially use that technology to carry out assassinations. While most people that work for the CIA probably mean well and genuinely want to protect the American people, this is something that we would have never known about had it not been for Wikileaks and Julian Assange.
Comey argued that there is a fine line between true journalism and publishing “intelligence porn,” but there is also a fine line between doing what it takes to keep the American people safe and violating their constitutional liberties. It seems as though the federal government becomes less and less transparent with each passing day, and while a lack of transparency may sometimes be necessary, it should seldom come at the expense of individual freedom.
Furthermore, with all due respect to James Comey, the FBI Director needs to understand that the freedom of speech doesn’t only exist for people and organizations that are sympathetic to the federal government. There is no part of the First Amendment that says “all Americans have the freedom of speech, so long as that speech doesn’t expose the questionable practices of the government.” Rather, the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press apply to everyone, regardless of whether or not some may view it as nothing more than “intelligence porn.”
Believe it or not, freedom of speech was originally included in the Constitution as a check, of sorts, on the government. The Founding Fathers believed that it was vital for the American people to stay informed on the things that go on behind closed doors in Washington DC. They believed strongly in the existence of transparency between the governing body and the citizens, so as to prevent the accumulation of power and corruption.
If James Comey is so concerned about the information that Wikileaks makes available to the public, perhaps the federal government should stop doing things that make journalists sound the alarms in the first place.