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Noah Feldman

World War II Leak Case Is a Win for Edward Snowden

Court allows grand jury testimony to be unsealed in the interest of history.
Let's go back to the Battle of Midway ...

Let's go back to the Battle of Midway ...

Source: Keystone/Getty Images

The secrecy rules for grand juries contain no exceptions for cases with historical importance. In an important victory for historians, however, a divided appeals court is unsealing testimony from a 1942 leak investigation after the Battle of Midway. The decision, which was opposed by the Obama administration, sheds some light on the debate about whether the leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden were justified by historic importance or were an inexcusable violation of national security.

It isn’t often that the facts of a contemporary legal case go back to World War II. But this one starts with the vulnerable U.S. naval position in the Pacific Ocean after the success of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The Imperial Japanese Navy sought to finish off the Americans by luring their remaining carriers to the Pacific atoll of Midway. At the same time, the Japanese launched a naval assault on the Aleutian Islands, a maneuver long thought to have been intended as a feint.