PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

Recent reports indicate that a government contract employee leaked the details of a classified National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program to the media. We asked James Carafano, who authored a book on Washington’ s use of contractors, Private Sector, Public Wars, what to make of these recent revelations.

Is it routine to share classified information with contractors?

Yes. We share classified information with contract employees all the time. Failures like this are a rare occurrence.

Isn’t that risky?

Contractors, when used prudently with appropriate oversight, are an invaluable part of our military capability. Efficiently tapping the private sector for national security can be an enormous competitive advantage for the U.S. That said, we don’t know whether this individual was trained, monitored, and supervised appropriately. That will have to be determined in an investigation.

Can the leaker be prosecuted?

Yes. The obligation for contract employees to deal properly with classified material is the same as for government employees. Individuals don’t get to decide for themselves what should be classified. If an individual knowingly has given classified material to an unauthorized person, it’s a grave breach of trust and law.

What is wrong with making the public aware of what our government is doing?

We have to separate the leaking of the material, which is simply wrong, from concerns about the program itself. Surveillance for threats can be done legally; however, it is impossible to tell from press reports and government talking points alone if the program was administered properly. That said, individuals who suspect wrongdoing in government have legitimate options to bring it to the attention of responsible individuals in government and Congress without breaking the law.