I would normally respond to this in the comments, but I think this is a probably a good opportunity to lay out where I stand on freedom of the press vs. national security.
First, John’s comment:
Thank you Mr. Freedom of the Press. Can we also shut down the NYT website? Not many people are using that one either.
Honestly, did any of these leaks tell us anything we didn’t already know, or at least suspect? Oh, look the US spies on other countries? Really? The only thing I have gotten out of the leaks is that the State Department isn’t quite as naive as they are often made out to be.
Regarding the NYT’s website: Don’t tempt me.
No, the latest links probably don’t tell us much that an informed foreign policy observer probably couldn’t deduce or surmise from anonymous sources in press accounts. On that count, the earlier leaked documents regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were far more damaging to U.S. national security and the lives of people who’ve helped us in those countries.
On that issue, I’m annoyed that the Obama administration is just now getting around to going after Julian Assange. It makes it appear that the Obama administration is more concerned about how they look (and they don’t look particularly good in a lot of these cables) than they are about the safety of those who’ve helped us in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Am I a supporter of the freedom of the press? Certainly. Do I oppose prior restraint? Yes. Do the American people have the right to know every single thing their government does? No.
But freedom of the press doesn’t mean the press is above the law.
The American people didn’t elect New York Times editor Bill Keller or any of his reporters to use their judgment when it comes to what should be kept secret and what should be splashed across newspaper pages and the Web. And the American people certainly didn’t give the go-ahead for some punk PFC in Iraq to disseminate these documents around the world.
Journalists publishing classified documents is much the same as ordinary citizens practicing civil disobedience. If you’re picketing an abortion clinic or organizing a sit-in against whatever’s in vogue on the college campus that particular day, you should expect to get arrested and go before a judge. If you can generate enough public outrage at your treatment or the law you’re accused of breaking (and don’t think the press wouldn’t be ginning up outrage by the metric ton) then the law will be changed or your sentence will be commuted or you’ll be pardoned or whatever.
If you’re going to do the crime, be prepared to do the time.
It would’ve been politically interesting (how’s that for an artful obfuscation?), but I would’ve like to have seen the Bush administration go after Keller for revealing the terrorist financial tracking program – which eventually led to us losing that tool after other countries succumbed to pressure because they were helping the evil Bush administration.
A job at a newspaper or TV station isn’t a get out of jail free card.
Let’s say that instead of diplomatic cables or reports from the front lines of Iraq or Afghanistan that some PFC managed to get detailed schematics on the electronics and sonar in our attack submarines and some newspaper, website or cable news network thought it would be a good idea to just put those up on the Internet for anyone to see.
Is there any doubt that they could – and should – be prosecuted under our espionage laws?
I don’t trust journalists to know or decide which document marked “top secret” is OK to publish because it’ll only be a little politically embarrassing and which document they shouldn’t because it could get people killed. I’ve known enough journalists in my life to know that they don’t have the knowledge or capacity to make that decision.