In April, secret documents allegedly photographed by a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard began making their way into the mainstream media. Many were briefings prepared by military intelligence services, and much of it dealt with the Russia-Ukraine war. They offered Americans a rare window into the government’s most valuable intelligence on one of Europe’s deadliest conflicts since World War II.
We’ve been here before. In 2010, WikiLeaks began churning out hundreds of thousands of secret documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that had been leaked by an Army private, prompting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare that such disclosures “tear at the fabric of the proper function of responsible government.” Three years later, Edward Snowden, a National Security Agency contractor, leaked another batch of highly classified documents. President Barack Obama warned then that if anybody who disagreed with the government could choose to reveal its secrets, “we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy.”
This time the reaction has been quite different. The Pentagon did say that the latest disclosures — widely known as the “Discord Leaks” — present a “very serious risk to national security.” But there has been curiously little public interest in the spilled secrets.
Reaction to the indictment of Donald Trump has followed a similar pattern, though the case revolves around a former president’s handling of classified files, not leaked secrets.
There’s nothing especially surprising in the public fascination with Teixeira, nor with earlier lead actors in major security leaks such as Snowden, Chelsea Manning or Julian Assange. But why has this trove of information generated less excitement than previous leaks?
One reason cited by intelligence experts is that the Ukraine war is being reported in minute detail, and the batch of raw intelligence does not substantially change the overall perception of the state of affairs.
Another factor in the lackluster public reception may be that the leaks aren’t politically scandalous. Though their disclosure is worrisome to intelligence agencies, embarrassing to U.S. diplomats and irritating to foreign leaders, there are no revelations of gross dereliction or covert iniquities, as have dropped in past leaks.
And for all the dire warnings from Clinton, Obama and others a decade ago, the far more voluminous and potentially harmful information leaked by Manning and Snowden did not wreck America’s ability to function in the world.