An article in the new issue of Time magazine is accompanied by a jarring graphic. Four people are pictured: whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, and mass shooters Nidal Hassan (Fort Hood) and Navy Yard suspect Aaron Alexis.
Time‘s point is that the companies that handle security clearances have some explaining to do: How did these four dangerous individuals manage to slip through a system that is supposed to ferret out the bad guys? As Time‘s Mark Thompson put it:
Here is the world’s worst-kept secret: The military’s security-clearance system is utterly, tragically broken. Army Major Nidal Hasan, armed with a secret clearance and an FN 5.7 semiautomatic pistol, showed warning signs well before he killed 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, arrested in 2010, and NSA contractor Edward Snowden, a fugitive since June, had top-secret clearances before they absconded with the nation’s secrets and shared them with the world.
Now from the point of view of the government, all four examples are threats. But journalists, it goes without saying, should not adopt the government’s view of the world.
Manning and Snowden were conscientious whistleblowers who risked their lives in order to expose official wrongdoing. Journalists around the world have used the information they shared in order to inform citizens about things the government would prefer to keep quiet about. Hassan and Alexis are known because of senseless, deadly acts of violence.
Time isn’t the only media outlet to draw unfortunate connections when it comes to how security clearances are granted; the Washington Post (9/21/13) ran a story noting that the same company handled clearances for Snowden and Alexis. But there’s something a little disturbing about media outlets that fail to see a distinction between mass killers and whistleblowers.