Secrecy is a virtual religion in Washington. Those who violate its dogma have been punished in the harshest and most excessive manner — at least when they possess little political power or influence. As has been widely noted, the Obama administration has prosecuted more leakers under the 1917 Espionage Act than all prior administrations combined. Secrecy in D.C. is so revered that even the most banal documents are reflexively marked classified, making their disclosure or mishandling a felony. As former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden said back in 2000, “Everything’s secret. I mean, I got an email saying, ‘Merry Christmas.’ It carried a top-secret NSA classification marking.”
People who leak to media outlets for the selfless purpose of informing the public — Daniel Ellsberg, Tom Drake, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden — face decades in prison. Those who leak for more ignoble and self-serving ends — such as enabling hagiography (Leon Panetta, David Petraeus) or ingratiating oneself to one’s mistress (Petraeus) — face career destruction, though they are usually spared if they are sufficiently Important-in-D.C. For low-level, powerless Nobodies-in-D.C., even the mere mishandling of classified information — without any intent to leakbut merely to, say, work from home — has resulted in criminal prosecution, career destruction, and the permanent loss of security clearance.
This extreme, unforgiving, unreasonable, excessive posture toward classified information came to an instant halt in Washington today — just in time to save Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations. FBI Director James Comey, an Obama appointee who served in the Bush DOJ, held a press conference earlier this afternoon in which he condemned Clinton on the ground that she and her colleagues were “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” including top-secret material.