A Classic

The British comedy series, "Yes, Minister," and subsequently, "Yes, Prime Minister," was a masterly insight into how people in government view themselves, especially the permanent civil servants who implement government directives. In Britain, these people form a professional government caste. Sir Humphrey is the master of that caste; and he had something to say about leaks of classified information that is certainly pertinent to the current American debate. Money quote:

Prime Minister: We must do something to improve my relations with the press, which deteriorated considerably when my private secretary told them I felt I was above the law when it came to official secrets.

Bernard: Yes, you may well hang your head.

PM: What's the constitutional position, Humphrey?

Sir Humphrey: Well, in a sense, Bernard was right. The question, in a nutshell, is what is the difference between a breach of the Official Secrets Act and an unattributable, off-the-record briefing by a senior official? The former - a breach - is a criminal offence. A briefing is essential to keep the wheels turning.

Bernard: Is there a difference or is it a matter of convenience and interpretation? Is it a breach of the act if there is an unofficial, non-attributable briefing by an official who's been unofficially authorised by the Prime Minister?

Sir Humphrey: Not if it's been authorised by the PM, no.

PM: That's what I say. I should decide if it's in the national interest for something to be disclosed, not officials.

PM: Last week's leak must've come from an official.

Bernard: But what if the official was officially authorised or even unofficially authorised? What if the PM officially disapproves of a breach of the act, but unofficially approves?

Sir Humphrey: Then a leak would be unofficially official, but officially unofficial.

Everything clear now?