Leaks: Tracing the path of secrets through democracy


Molly Buckley

Class Year


Access Type

Archival Only

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department or Program

Media Studies Program

First Advisor

William Hoynes

Second Advisor

Tarik Elseewi


In this thesis, I explore the unique potential of political leaks to illuminate and critique the underlying power structure of the state. The primary motive of the institutional state is to maximize and preserve its own power; because of this, an unchecked state will always put its own security before its citizens’ freedom. Since the US executive branch is virtually unchecked in its control over classification, overgrown state secrecy stands as a threat to US transparency, accountability, and therefore democracy. Here, I examine the leaks of Daniel Ellsberg (1971), Chelsea Manning (2010), and Edward Snowden (2013) in order to parse out the complexities of the oppositional relationship between leaks and the state. I find that leaks force the state to publicly acknowledge its shortcomings; they elicit desperate, frenetic reactionary threats of violence, futile attempts to cut off the flow of information, and the disturbingly uninhibited targeting of the individual. I ultimately conclude that, by revealing the utter instability of state secrecy, the mere potential of leaks serves to threaten the state and thereby boost the quality of democracy in the United States.

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