Shhh … Secret Squirrel Thank heaven for unnamed sources

The Guardian wrote this week

“Deep antipathy to Hillary Clinton exists within the FBI, multiple bureau sources have told the Guardian, spurring a rapid series of leaks damaging to her campaign just days before the election.

Current and former FBI officials, none of whom were willing or cleared to speak on the record, have described a chaotic internal climate that resulted from outrage over director James Comey’s July decision not to recommend an indictment over Clinton’s maintenance of a private email server on which classified information transited.

“The FBI is Trumpland,” said one current agent.

This atmosphere raises major questions about how Comey and the bureau he is slated to run for the next seven years can work with Clinton should she win the White House.”


Secrecy has become entrenched in institutions while they promise transparency. We have come to rely on anonymous sources to tell us what is really going on. They can expose dysfunction at powerful institutions – as it did with the Guardian report (above) about FBI antipathy to Hillary Clinton.  It seems like personal views in influencing the use of state power right on the eve of an election. It could aid the election of a dangerous man, and that sense the secret policing agency is anti-democratic.

Shhh - Secret Squirrel
Shhh – Secret Squirrel

The use of anonymous sources look like increasing rather than shrinking, as institutions claim transparency while taking steps to shut the public out. We know that if people in the FBI and security agencies and big corporates people also leak – about one another and sometimes about private citizens. Media organisations can lap that up as well. It’s the new media world and it requires a lot of faith in journalists at a time the profession is in deep doo doo.

Comey …

Media use their judgement on whether and how to act on leaks. In this country, the stakes are not so high as with the FBI acting against a presidential candidate. Beyond the checks on  the veracity of sources it require a fundamental task – understanding the reasons why people are talking and what it is in it for them. It may well be pure public spirited-ness or it may be a number of factors.


In many industries few are allowed to speak to media. Institutions and industries are small. Even if a principal or public interest is at stake – a moment of honesty can end the career. of a source. Media have to balance public transparency and privacy over the comments that unnamed sources make.



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