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In the Name of National Interest: Persuasion in Security Politics


How does information affect foreign policy? This dissertation explores the political dynamic of disclosure of classified information about national security and defense policy and its effects on foreign policymaking.

In Chapter 1, I introduce the subsequent chapters by discussing their research questions.

Chapter 2 confirms the prevalence of disclosure of classified information by anonymous sources in foreign policy reporting; 43.8 percent of all quotes in a corpus of news articles about drone strikes are attributed to anonymous individuals. Chapter 2 also shows that most of anonymously-sourced information is either neutral or supportive of the government’s policies.

Chapter 3 analyzes the puzzling credibility of disclosure of pro-government classified information (a “helpful leak”). I argue that credibility of unverifiable information leaked by anonymous sources stems from the perception that they may be leakers who reveal the truth and from the government’s stronger incentive to punish leakers of true than false information. The mechanism hinges on a trade-off that the government faces between allowing positive information to leak irrespective of its veracity and the need to assert bureaucratic control by prosecuting unauthorized disclosures. I show that this trade-off causes the government to prosecute some, but not all, truthful leaks of pro-government information.

Chapter 4 illustrates a dilemma for the government when punishing bureaucrats who disclose politically detrimental and classified information (“harmful leaks”). I argue the government’s dilemma over bureaucratic and political incentives drives the government’s sporadic punishment of harmful leaks. Although criminal punishment of harmful leakers establishes bureaucratic discipline, it deprives the government of maintaining plausible deniability of the damaging information. I show that this tradeoff between internal credibility and external credibility results in limited enforcement of secrecy.

Chapter 5 examines a political consequence of harmful leaks. I argue that these harmful leakers can effect a change in public opinion about foreign policy when they reveal their own identity. The revelation strengthens the public’s belief in the credibility of anti-government information provided by the leaker. This renders the government’s policy proposal unpopular among the public.

I conclude in Chapter 6.

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