Where do you find a leak in chaos?

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Ed.: 080417 – Words: 1680 – Audio: 11:03

One of the big thorns in Trump’s side are the many leaks of inside business being conducted at the White House.  The recent release by the Washington Post of the written transcripts of those two early phone calls between Trump and the Mexican president and the Australian PM continues to illustrate the problem.

Now, in one way it’s easy to fall into anti-Trump mode and welcome these leaks as yet another example of the White House in complete chaos and the incompetence of the President.  At first even I “welcomed” those leaks.  But as an American it’s a bit more than just finding fodder to assign blame to the President.  It’s bad enough that the President is a diplomatic buffoon regarding the international community and his credibility is in question constantly… but when leaks occur it places our country in a very questionable situation in being able to assure secrets shared by our allies are kept secret.  It’s one thing to be a international political laughing stock and an ill-defined foreign policy government, but to not be trusted to have the capacity to keep a secret is far more serious.

So then that begs the question.. how do you stop the leaks?  Well, first you have to determine the “why” there are leaks at all.  It’s common knowledge that all administrations suffer from leaks.  Some have more, some have less.  The current administration has an epidemic.  Some administrations aren’t so active in trying to catch those that leak; apparently Obama was pretty aggressive and found a couple.

The interesting thing about White House leaks is that these are not your typical espionage leaks or acquiring secrets like between spies.  The person leaking the information is typically leaking to the press… not a foreign power.  The person leaking to the press is not necessarily “recruited” to do that by a foreign power.  From my vantage point people leak for five reasons…

  1. They want their five minutes of fame knowing they know a secret and find a need to brag or make themselves important. They share it with a friend, girlfriend… or even directly to the press just to watch the public reaction for bragging rights.  Maybe they like emulating the Watergate “Deep Throat” drama.
  2. Disgruntled employee. Revenge, retribution… getting even.
  3. Whistleblower wannabe. There is a specific procedure for presenting yourself to be a whistleblower.  But some people feel they might be doing a moral public service leaking some apparent information that seems illegal or unconstitutional, outside of the whistleblower process, for fear the process itself can’t be trusted or their personal safety is in question if they use that route.
  4. Political drama, political sabotage. This is likely the big reason.  A staffer falls from loyalty to the president or some other major player, a staffer feels a specific policy is wrong, someone is disenchanted with the mood or environment of certain decision-making… the reasons are endless actually.
  5. Careless mistake. Sometimes a president himself will accidentally reveal too much inadvertently in a press conference or some speech.  People will sometimes share tidbits with friends and family inadvertently.. without vindictiveness or some political agenda.

There might be other reasons more scientific but this seems to cover the motivations most popular.  Now from here we might isolate the critical reasons.  One obvious explanation for all the leaks in the current administration would be #4, above.  The President has done everything possible to alienate himself with his attitude and demeanor; his social abrasiveness and maverick policies.  It’s not a stretch to think there are staffers working for the administration that feel the President is not performing to expectations, maybe he tweets too much, maybe it’s all the organizational and personal chaos.

Is it one person or many?  One way to try and determine that is to evaluate the nature of the subject of the leaks.  Who in the administration might have access to all the stuff that was leaked?  Or… were the leaks random in their subject suggesting maybe more than one source.  This popular notion among conservatives that the leaks are from left over Obama staff people is pure nonsense.  Why is the Trump administration still employing them if that’s the source?   More to the point, how many Obama staffers that are truly left over that have “inner sanctum” access to the information released thus far?

Having been a management professional most my life one of the basic rules of managing people is securing their respect by respecting them.  That’s the way you achieve a measure of loyalty and job dedication.  Very likely Trump has a ton of leaks simply because he socially betrays people… and people feel alienated.  Scaramucci said before he left… “There are people inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president.”

True or not, that does open up a very real aspect of leaks from the White House.  Is a person, or persons, thinking they are saving America from Trump by leaking sensitive information?  Again.. loss of loyalty.  Here’s another thought… is there someone in the White House thinking they are helping Trump by making certain leaks?

But here’s another aspect to leaks.  For a leak to be valuable to the “leaker” it has to be a potential detriment to the one (or many) keeping it a secret.  In fact, how valuable would a leak be if we didn’t have a press to leak it to?  The whole pretext of leaking at all is to expose someone or something to public scrutiny, ridicule, embarrassment, or legal exposure… or all of the above.

Now, being an American I am also a staunch believer in the First Amendment and the press being part of that freedom.  But I do, in fact, have a practical concern over the press being so willing to report leaks.. those “unnamed sources”.  The relationship between a leaker and the press is a rather symbiotic relationship.  A leaker needs the press to make the leak public, hence the leaker is “using” the press for his/her own advantage.  The press loves the leaker because that means a news scoop no other media outlet has; it means a job-well-done for the reporter in his office if he/she can verify the leak content as being authentic (unless they don’t give a damn and report it anyway), increased exposure and prestige for the media outlet who releases it in print or broadcast form, which then translates to increased revenue.

I understand all that.  But given we are all patriotic Americans I have a slight conflict with the idea that a press person, generally an American, knowing full well a leak is revealing a state secret of some sort, is so willing to be part of making the leak… a leak.  In effect the press person is an accomplice toward making the leak… a leak.  For example, you sharing with your spouse during a bit of “innocent” pillow talk some evening of some event or decision made in the Oval Office that day is, in fact, a leak.  But generally it ends there if your spouse understands your level of secrecy in your position.  But if you are releasing a leak to the press because of some personal agenda.. then I submit that each person along that route to expose  the leak content bears a moral responsibility for leaking it.  As Americans we tend to accept the press’s role in repeating leaks publicly because we think of the secret information as somehow keeping government and government employees  honest; kind of the end-justifies-the-means perception.  In fact, not all leaks have that somewhat “positive” effect.

This should not have been made public.

Take the recent phone call transcript released between Trump and the Mexican President and Aussie Prime Minister back in the beginning of the presidency.  By releasing that, what exactly was achieved?  The leaker obviously wanted to expose Trump as being inept at diplomacy, overbearing and uncompromising, petty and self-absorbed.  Well.. we all knew that.  It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon or brain scientist to just imagine how Trump handles diplomatic phone calls with foreign leaders.  What it does seem to confirm to other world leaders is that Trump’s general demeanor and approach to world diplomacy is not constructive.. so why  include the U.S. at all in future endeavors.  It confirms to other world leaders our “new” preference toward isolationism and protectivism.  But of greatest importance is that foreign dignitaries visiting then White House will not be confident of our ability to keep a secret. Release of those transcripts very much continues to embarrass Americans who give a damn about how the world perceives us and our ability to be a world leader.  In this case I don’t necessarily hold the leaker in contempt but the Washington Post for thinking this was a leak worth reporting to Americans.  It certainly was a leak to make the Post money.

Now, that being said… there’s seems to be a drift of over-classification of what exactly constitutes a leak that is a classified security risk.  For example, the phone call transcripts I would consider a major leak… but hearing today that new Chief of Staff Kelly now keeps the Oval Office door closed to deter wandering visitors, is hardly a state secret, although one might assign that a “private business” thing, it likely has no legal recourse if exposed.

Anyway you look at White House leaks, it’s tough to control. But we do know one thing for sure.  Trump always seems to reap what he sows.

Carry On America