Written By: Colin Offenbacker
On Wednesday this week, news began to break about yet another “leaker” coming from the top tiers of our governmental bureaucracy being arrested for distributing sensitive information. This time it was Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a senior adviser at the Treasury Departments Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. She was was arrested and charged with unauthorized disclosure of Suspicious Activity Reports and conspiracy to make such unauthorized disclosures by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. On Wednesday she was released on $100,000 bond and ordered to appear in court next month. Each of the two charges carry a maximum sentence of up to 5 years in prison.
The documents released are what is called “Suspicious Activity Reports” also known as SARs. In short they are used by financial institutions to flag possible illegal transactions, which Edwards stored on a flash drive. According to the Department of Justice, the leaked SARs were linked to the Robert Muller investigation. Among the numerous disclosed SARs some were related to the accused Russian spy Maria Butina, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his long time business partner Rick Gates. In the indictment handed down from federal prosecutors it said “…the flash drive files appear to contain thousands of SAR’s, along with other highly sensitive material relating to Russia, Iran and the terrorists group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL), among other things. Multiple files also bear labels referencing Paul Manafort and Reporter-1’s name.”
Though, the reporter isn’t named in the indictment, reporter-1 seems to be someone from BuzzFeed News. A string of articles released via BuzzFeed News seem to corroborate this, I’ve attached links below to see for yourself if interested.
This whole situation isn’t really new in our contemporary news cycle, in fact DOJ investigations of leakers is up nearly 800%. I’ve said as much on the podcast before but I would like there to be no leaks in our government, I would also like it if there was never a “need” for such leaks, but given the current political and social climate I can at least understand where the drive to leak comes from. What I really want to focus on here though is the relationship between reporters and these would be leakers.
After reading through some of these articles in question, I’m torn by many questions, whether or not “we” as the public really need all of the information, whether or not the articles are written to promote a political agenda or perhaps it’s just the free-press doing there jobs. I’m sure that during the investigation into Ms. Edwards, any nefarious activity on the part of “report-1” would have been uncovered if any existed, which would rule out any coercive activity on the side of the press in this situation.
This however leaves me with another question, a question of ethics. To front load this a little, there is a very stark difference between a leaker and a so called whistle blower, and for the purposes of this blog post I’m going to assume that we know the difference between the two. With that in mind, does the press have the ethical responsibility to publish known illegally obtained documents, like those in this particular court case? Or perhaps the opposite?
I feel like I could easily make arguments on both sides of this situation and perhaps Don and I will talk more about it on the podcast soon. For now I feel like I’m just left with more and more questions. What is in it for leakers like Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards? Like James Wolf, a former intelligence committee staffer who just earlier this week plead guilty to leaking a subpoena? It’s fairly simple to see what’s in it for the press, a scoop no one else will get, a chance to tell a story no one else would know, there’s a million reasons there, and some might even say an ethical duty to relay it to the public.
With that, I think this is some great conversation material so I’ll leave the ball in your court. Leave us a reply in the comments and let us know what your take is on leaks, leakers and the press running stories on them. Do you like leaks? Are all leaks good? Are no leaks good? Let us know what you think! And of course don’t forget to catch the podcast when it drops on Monday or catch the video podcast when it hits YouTube on Tuesday to see if your comments make it on the show!