Let’s say you are a public servant and you come across the memorandum of a conversation between your prime minister and US President George Bush. And let’s say the memo you cite notes that President Bush is considering bombing the headquarters of a media network called Al-Jazeera, all in the name of prosecuting the war on Iraq. What do you do?
Simply file the memo away with all the other bits of paper marked Top Secret by your superiors, or ensure that the world knows that the President of the United States is prepared to contemplate killing innocent civilians, and eliminating a news source that does not suit his point of view?
If you have any sort of conscience, and if you want to ensure that the world knows just how delusional and dangerous the man leading the prosecution of the war in Iraq is, then you would leak the document. You ought to be a hero, right?
Wrong, according to the UK Government and court system. Last Thursday, David Keogh, a 50-year-old Blair Government communications officer, and Leo O’Connor, a 44-year-old researcher for a Labour MP, were sentenced for six months’ and three months’ jail respectively, for leaking such a memo in 2004.
Keogh did it because, he said, he felt strongly about the memo. He passed it to O’Connor, whose boss, Anthony Clarke, was one of the many Labour MPs who opposed the Blair Government’s support for the war. Keogh and O’Connor were prosecuted under the UK Official Secrets Act — which has its equivalent in Australia in the Commonwealth Crimes Act.
Of course, when the Bush reference to bombing Al-Jazeera was first revealed in the UK media in 2004, the White House described the claim as “outlandish and inconceivable.” And there seems to be disagreement about whether or not Bush’s comments were made in jest.
Mind you, if they were made in jest, why was the comment recorded in an official memorandum of the meeting? Knowing President Bush as the world does, it would come as no surprise that he did seriously suggest bombing the one media outlet in the Arab world that acts as an effective agent of news.
There is gross hypocrisy in the way the Official Secrets Act and its counterparts around the globe are used. While people like Mr Keogh and Mr O’Connor have their careers ruined and their liberty deprived because it did not suit their political masters for them to reveal the madcap scheme of President Bush, had the British Government decided that it, too, was mightily concerned about Bush’s plan to bomb Al-Jazeera, and wanted to leak the idea so it would force the President to deny the concept, you can bet that it would have used someone like Mr Keogh to feed the offending memo to their carefully selected media outlet.
The world should be thankful to Keogh and O’Connor that they put their consciences before the ‘duty’ to prevent an ‘inconvenient truth’ from becoming public knowledge.