Lesson Plan: 1st Amendment and Classified Leaks

Price of Transparency

FBI Director Robert Mueller's response to a question from Sen. Al Franken regarding transparency in surveillance programs.

Description

In this lesson, students will consider whether or not the media should publish leaked classified materials. Specifically, they will a) understand the history of classified information that has been leaked to the media, b) determine the central idea of primary sources, and c) evaluate the role of the media in politics. First, students will watch an introductory video clip and briefly discuss the balance between security and transparency. Then, the teacher will provide a brief overview of the history of classified leaks to the media. Next, students will work in small groups to analyze video clips portraying different sides of the issue. Finally, the groups will share their conclusions and discuss whether or not the media should publish classified information.

Procedures

  • STEP 1.

    First, play the video clip of FBI Director Robert Mueller. (*For additional context, Director Mueller’s testimony came shortly after Edward Snowden leaked information about the government’s electronic surveillance of phone records and Internet activity in June 2013.)

    Second, play the video clip of Author Jeremy Scahill discussing journalists and government secrets.

    Discuss the pros and cons of transparency? Do you believe that it is important to know classified information if it potentially makes us less safe?

    VIDEO CLIP: Price of Transparency (2:30) FBI Director Robert Mueller's response to a question from Sen. Al Franken regarding transparency in surveillance programs.

    VIDEO CLIP: Why We Need Journalists (3:14) Author Jeremy Scahill discusses journalists and government secrets.

  • STEP 2.

    Provide students with a brief history of classified leaks. This will also provide some background information for the video clips that they will watch. Be brief; the point is to familiarize students with the events involved, not teach them everything about them. Be sure to include:

    • The Pentagon Papers (1971). This classified history of American involvement in Vietnam was leaked and published by the New York Times.

    • Warrantless Wiretapping and Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (2006). Both programs were leaked and published in the New York Times.

    • Wikileaks (2010). The organization first leaked a video (“Collateral Murder” on YouTube) of a firefight in which civilians were killed by the U.S. military. Later in the year, it leaked a massive collection of State Department cables.

    • Telephony Metadata and PRISM (2013). Eric Snowden leaked documents related to broad electronic surveillance and data collection being conducted by the NSA
  • STEP 3.

    Divide the class into groups of three to four students. Each group will have to watch all of the eight video clips below and take notes.

    Before students start, hand out or project on the board these three guiding questions:

    i. Is it ok for the government to withold information from its citizens?

    ii. Do journalists perform a public service by publishing classified information?

    iii. Does the release of classified information threaten national security?

    If time permits, have each group watch the videos collectively and analyze the videos together. Otherwise, have the group members split up the videos between themselves and share their analyses at the end.

    For each video, the students should take notes in their notebook, including:

    i. The speaker’s name and job title.

    ii. The date and context of the video clip.

    iii. A concise summary of the video clip.

    iv. One direct quote that conveys the central meaning of the clip.

  • Should the media publish leaks, and should the government withold information from its citizens?

    VIDEO CLIP: Media and Classified Leaks (2:08) In this Washington Journal segment, the guest discusses examples of the media publishing articles about classified leaks. He makes an argument about balancing the obligation of the press to publish things with the need to protect national security.

    VIDEO CLIP: Free Press and Classified Leaks (6:55) James Goodale discusses the Pentagon Papers and the freedom of the press to publish classified information.

  • What happens when leaks are published? What are the effects of these leaks?

    VIDEO CLIP: Price of Transparency (2:30) FBI Director Robert Mueller's response to a question from Sen. Al Franken regarding transparency in surveillance programs.

    VIDEO CLIP: WikiLeaks and Threats to National Security (3:29) Rep. Louie Gohmert discusses his opinion of the danger of Wikileaks.

    VIDEO CLIP: Pentagon Reaction to Wikileaks Documents (3:26) Tony Cappacio spoke by phone about Defense Department reaction to the release by Wikileaks Web site of secret documents related to the war in Iraq.

  • What do we think about the “whistle blowers”?

    VIDEO CLIP: Is Snowden a Traitor? (2:46) Representative Joe Wilson discusses whether or not Edward Snowden, who leaked classified data, is a "traitor."

    VIDEO CLIP: Why We Need Journalists (3:44) Author Jeremy Scahill discusses journalists and government secrets.

  • STEP 4.
    After watching and analyzing all of the video clips, each group should deliberate on a response to the three guiding questions. Explain that they do not need to adopt an absolute “yes” or “no” answer, but if they say “maybe,” they must back it up with specific examples.

  • STEP 5.
    Wrap up by having each group report out their opinions about the three guiding questions. Allow for a general discussion if time permits. Assign any desired follow up assignment.

  • Potential Follow-Up Assignments and/or Homework

    1. Choose one of the major leaks discussed in the lesson and conduct more research about that particular incident. Utilize multiple sources, including additional C-SPAN clips in the C-SPAN Video Library, to thoroughly answer the three guiding questions with regards to that specific leak.

    2. Create a one page pamphlet that offers advice to journalists on how to handle classified leaks and under what conditions (if any) you feel they should be published.

Vocabulary

  • Classified Information
  • Leak
  • Pentagon Papers
  • Transparency
  • Whistle Blower
  • Wiretap

Topics

Civil Rights & Civil LibertiesConstitutional FoundationMedia

Grades

High SchoolUniversity