National Security & Defense

Chelsea Manning Is Not a Whistleblower

Manning in custody at Fort Meade, Md., in 2012 (Reuters photo: Jose Luis Magana)
Shame on the mainstream media for repeatedly saying otherwise.

Let’s say you published something controversial on the Internet and you started getting death threats. How would you like being “doxed”? In other words, what would your reaction be if someone who didn’t like you tweeted out to the world your home address? And your phone number? And your photo? And photos of your children? And the address of their school? And information about when you left the house each day, the license-plate number of your car, and the location where it was parked?

Would you call someone who published this information a “whistleblower”? Let’s say the same person simultaneously published accurate information about wrongdoing by your neighbors or colleagues. Would that make you feel any better?

Picture such an information dump on a massive scale. That’s roughly what then-Bradley Manning did when he threw hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic documents into the public square. Manning made no effort to filter out information that didn’t show evidence of wrongdoing. He indiscriminately stole as many classified documents as he dared and sent them off for publication on the Internet.

Chelsea Manning is not a whistleblower. Shame on you, NBC News, for saying that he is. Shame on you, Time. You, too, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, Sky News, Canada’s public broadcaster CBC News, and many other outlets.

You would expect extremists at InfoWars and The Intercept to label Chelsea Manning a whistleblower, and that is what they have done. But mainstream-media outlets have blithely taken to using the preferred terms of radicals when describing Manning’s actions.

Even if we assume that Manning (who legally changed his name from Bradley to Chelsea in 2014) successfully exposed some wrongdoing, it must be conceded that what he did was reckless. He endangered the lives of countless American and allied military personnel, diplomats, and others associated with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The only way his act constitutes mass exposure of wrongdoing, and nothing more, is if you think everybody in the U.S. military and everyone who worked with it is automatically a moral criminal. Exposing personal information about people fighting a war isn’t close to seeking justice for malefactors. It’s more like vigilantism.

Mainstream-media outlets have blithely taken to using the preferred terms of radicals when describing Manning’s actions.

No evidence has emerged that anyone was killed because of the information Manning stole and made public. But even if Manning’s actions didn’t result in anyone’s death, that does not render them forgivable or harmless. If you set your car in neutral and let it glide down a hill toward a playground while you walked the other way, you would hardly be held blameless if the car didn’t happen to kill anyone. Moreover, Manning violated several tenets of the basic military oath, such as the vow to obey the orders of his superiors and to obey the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which strictly governs the handling of classified information. Think of anyone you have ever known who served in or alongside the military, and consider how that person could have been exposed by Manning. You may find yourself becoming angry with any institution that celebrates Manning by framing his actions as “whistleblowing.”

Liberals celebrating the premature release of Manning ought to ponder the nature of the man who abetted Manning in disclosing private information: Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. Remember him? The one you blame for working with the Russians to subvert democracy? He doesn’t necessarily have America’s best interests at heart, does he? He never did. Why is Assange an enemy of democracy for publishing purloined political gossip, but Manning a whistleblower for helping Assange publish far more sensitive, far more important, indeed life-endangering material? Among the documents Manning turned over to Assange were war logs that contained the names of hundreds of civilians who cooperated with U.S. forces. Assange simply published those logs en masse, without redacting the names of civilians involved, placing those fighting for freedom in their countries in great peril.

Assange and Manning wanted to stop the wars at any cost, even if — or maybe especially if — that meant America’s defeat and the failure of its goals, chiefly stable democracies for Iraq and Afghanistan. That puts Assange and Manning on the same side as the Islamist extremists seeking to rule both countries. They aren’t friends to liberty, they aren’t friends to America, and they aren’t heroes of the information age.

— Kyle Smith is National Review’s critic-at-large.

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