Parking garages still safer than email

There are reasons good and bad to want anonymity

Journalists use anonymous sources, but as a rule we like things on the record. Often, people really have no need to worry about their safety or job but want to push an opinion or issue without their name attached. This won’t cut it.

This matter of anonymity crept up at the regional district recently over questions about certain SRD directors receiving communications from the public while others were left out of the loop. One reason some elected officials prefer not to turn over all correspondence is to protect the confidentiality of people contacting them.

As I stated, there can be reasons for this, and journalists take this seriously. In one case about 10 years ago, I wrote a feature on a woman who had been beaten into a coma by her ex. She was suffering trauma and wanted her story told but was trying to put her life back together, so we agreed to use a pseudonym.

There are also the whistleblowers – people with inside knowledge of some wrongdoing. Mark Felt is probably the best example. For a time he was the second highest-ranking FBI official, but lived a double life as “Deep Throat,” the unnamed source for the Washington Post in its investigation of Watergate that usually met reporter Bob Woodward in a parking garage. Only decades later, at the urging of his daughter, did Felt confirm he’d been the source.

I’ve also been watching a couple of things on Netflix of late. One was Wormwood, the docudrama series directed by filmmaker Errol Morris concerning the death of U.S. army scientist Frank Olson in November 1953. After the CIA’s experimental LSD program became public in the mid-1970s, the accepted story was Olson jumped out a window after he’d been given acid. This story begins to fall apart though. Veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who broke the initial story in the ’70s, admits he has a source that knows what really happened to Olson but will not confirm it. Hersh has used anonymous sources before, so considering he can’t use this person, even anonymously, it’s pretty clear the confidant knows something crucial only a few living people would know. I can guess who, but that’s all I can do.

I also finally watched the 2014 documentary Citizenfour about Edward Snowden’s meeting with filmmaker Laura Poitras and investigative journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill. This was to leak information about the extent the National Security Agency was spying on U.S. citizens in the years following the Sept. 11 attacks. At one point, Greenwald asks if Snowden doesn’t want to stay anonymous longer, but Snowden concedes they will know who the leak is, sooner rather than later, and he wishes to come clean. He did and is now living in exile in Russia. If anyone had a good reason to remain in the shadows, it was Snowden, yet he knew this was futile, especially in an age when everyone communicates online – and leaves traces. He sets the bar pretty high, especially for those demanding anonymity with much less to lose.

So, I’m thinking if you wish to remain confidential when communicating with an elected official – or a journalist – you might want to reconsider sending out too much info via the Internet. Might I instead suggest a meeting in the nearest parking garage.