Former CIA Director Michael Hayden told the BBC this week that he blames millennials for the government’s secrets being leaked to the public.
“In order to do this kind of stuff, we have to recruit from a certain demographic,” he said, referring to government surveillance. “And I don’t mean to judge them at all, but this group of millennials and related groups simply have different understandings of the words loyalty, secrecy, and transparency than certainly my generation did.”
He specifically cited whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden and speculated that whoever recently gave the CIA spy tool files to WikiLeaks was also likely a millennial.
“Culturally, they have different instincts than people who made the decision to hire them,” he said.
Hayden’s theory, however, doesn’t hold water. Whistleblowers and leakers have been a fact of life throughout United States history — and before its existence, too.
In 1772, Benjamin Franklin — born about 276 years too early to be a millennial — obtained letters from Thomas Hutchinson, governor of Massachusetts, in which he mused about repressing the rights of colonists. Franklin leaked the letters, and they were used by the movement for independence to rile up the colonies against their British rulers.
It’s a tradition that has continued in generation after generation.
Consider Daniel Ellsberg, who was 40 when he leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971, exposing widespread government deceit about the Vietnam War. Or Mark Felt, who was almost 60 when he helped formed the basis for the Watergate stories under the pseudonym “Deep Throat.”
To the extent that Hayden is right that millennials are different, it’s that younger people value privacy — the core issue behind Snowden’s leaks — more than older Americans.
A 2013 Pew poll found that millennials were more skeptical of government surveillance than any other age group — with 45 percent of millennials saying it was more important for the federal government to “not intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terror threats” than “to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy.” Among those 65 years old and older, just 26 percent held that view.
A 2015 poll commissioned by the ACLU found that 56 percent of Americans between the ages of 18-29 had a favorable view of Snowden, while just 26 percent of those above the age of 55 shared that view.