Accountability is Worse, Apparently

Jason Dietz over at is reporting the following this morning:

In a filing related to the detention of whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling, the Justice Department argued that being a whistleblower and leaking information to the media was a “greater threat to society” than when a spy sells that information to a single foreign country.

The exact details of what Sterling was being charged with leaking were never made public, but there is speculation that it was related to James Risen’s book State of War. The Justice Department filing however insisted that the stance was a general one, and not case-specific.

This might explain why recent officials have shown so little interest in going after actual spies yet are forever riled up by the notion that the American public might have access to similar embarrassing information.

So let me get this straight: the desire to hold one’s own government accountable by giving classified information to the media — and thus to the people that government allegedly represents — is worse than giving the same classified information to a foreign state, even an adversary.

The idea that government can be held accountable through mere democratic process is folly. Just as the excesses of government are often times kept in check by the possibility of revolt if the leaders of a state go to far (witness Tunisia, about which I hope to blog more later), those who rule can only truly be held accountable when the possibility that informal means will expose, and hopefully constrain, their actions. So what we are witnessing here, in the Bush/Obama regimes, is a state that wants nothing but the formal, constitutional forms of “accountability” which have, themselves, proven utterly incapable of restraining the actions of the state. Particularly the executive.

Because, I think, constitutional means were never really designed to. There is no process or system that can truly restrain the state if the leaders of the state do not wish to or not believe they should be restrained. The idea of the U.S. Constitution was to balance not just three branches of the federal government against each other, but also the feds against the states. But what if the states have been beaten into submission by the feds and all three branches work together toward the same end? Democratic government promises accountability, a kind of accountability to the people it governs that, supposedly, undemocratic governments cannot deliver. But I’ve become convinced the very promise of accountability is a lie. Not that democratic states fall short of the promise, but that the very promise itself of the accountability of democratic states is a lie, and has been a lie from the beginning. It only works when there are people committed to holding the state accountable (for whatever reason, whether they want the state to work better or, like me, they oppose the very state itself for moral reasons) and when they have the tools and courage — or are willing to fight for those things. 

But if the state, which holds the monopoly of violence and the high ground when it comes to imposing meaning on a society, deprives individuals of the ability to hold the state and its agents accountable, then there is nothing restraining the state.