Churchill said that the truth is so precious it must often be attended by a bodyguard of lies. Just so. The only lie an honorable man will tell is calculated to conceal a secret of his nation. In peace, we will lie, cheat and steal to protect those secrets just as our enemies will do that and more to learn them. In time of war, some of us have to kill to protect those secrets, and do so without compunction because they know that secrets revealed means American lives lost.
Throughout our history those of us who have been entrusted with secrets have found ourselves in the good company of politicians who can be trusted, judges who will use their power to protect secrets, and newsmen who place the interests of their nation above their own political agendas. That era is over. America is overpopulated with leakers, liars, political hacks, and enemies at whose disposal is a media ever-eager to publish any secret. No matter the risk to the nation, many in the media will publish anything that advances their political agenda and not incidentally earns them fame and fortune. Always running behind the media are a White House and Justice Department ill-disposed to do anything about even the most damaging and treasonous leaks.
It is beyond parody that the most damaging leaks — such as those that led to the CIA terrorist jail story in the Washington Post and the New York Times stories on the NSA terrorist surveillance program — have gone unpunished while the Justice Department’s loose cannon, Patrick Fitzgerald, pursues Scooter Libby like Javert pursued Jean Valjean. Media mentionables often opine on “tipping points” in Iraq, on the economy and so forth. These points are, theoretically, watershed events that decide the future. We must demand that the latest New York Times disclosure of yet another classified anti-terror program — this time the financial tracing of terrorist electronic fund transfers through the Belgian “SWIFT” consortium — be such an event. How can secrets be kept if no leakers are punished, and what will become of the First Amendment if the press remains the enemy of the safety of the nation it supposedly serves?
That the leakers of the CIA secret terrorist prisons and the NSA terrorist surveillance program aren’t rotting in jail, that the Washington Post’s Dana Priest and the New York Times’s James Risen and Eric Lichtblau haven’t been thrown in jail until they reveal their sources makes mockery of our laws and our nation’s security. In those two cases and many more, leaks have materially damaged our ability to fight terrorism. Governments that used to support us in secret don’t because they fear exposure. Terrorists and their leaders change their methods of operation making their plans harder to interdict and the terrorists harder to catch. The Justice Department whines that investigating leak cases is tough because their internal guidelines — parts of the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual written for another era when the press generally respected secrets — say that reporters should only be compelled to give up their sources when no other investigative path proves fruitful. Those guidelines should be thrown away because the press’s conduct is despicable and unlawful.
What, then, shall we do with “Pinch” Sulzberger, Bill Keller, Jill Abramson and the rest of the ideologues who control the New York Times? They are the new war profiteers. When they learned of the NSA terrorist surveillance program they kept the secret for a year for which the NSA was grateful. But in that year, James Risen wrote his book on the story and it was released on the same day the Times published a front-page story on the NSA program after the President had personally asked that it not be published. The Sulzbergers, Kellers and Abramsons are a new and vastly worse breed of war profiteers. Arms manufacturers may make bigger profits than some think is due them, but they deliver products essential to winning a war. The products of the N.Y. Times and its ilk are not only unnecessary, they materially assist the enemy.
Our Constitutionally-protected press is supposed to be one of the principal guardians of freedom. It’s supposed to protect us from the predations of government, exposing the unconstitutional, the illegal, the corrupt. But the New York Times and the others have divorced themselves from the First Amendment. Revealing the NSA terrorist surveillance program and the CIA secret prisons these newspapers claimed they were only revealing secrets because the government was abusing its power. That the newspapers’ claims were risible didn’t matter so long as congressional Democrats covered their backs by huffing and puffing about Bush’s imperial presidency. But now the Times has chosen to publish information about a secret program — the Treasury Department subpoenas of the SWIFT consortium records of electronic funds transfers — that even the Times doesn’t claim the program was illegal. The Times’s articles and the parallel Washington Post pieces merely pecksniff about “concerns” raised by some of their sources. But even with their cover blown, the Times and the Post aren’t worried. They are confident nothing will disturb their profiteering on the publication of wartime secrets.
Thus America has no secret that can be kept. No nation can long survive without the ability to keep them. There is no use in calling, as I did three years ago, for the press to police itself, and symbolic protests outside New York Times offices will only increase the incomes of the war profiteers inside. This problem requires an immediate solution, one that won’t wait for legislation, court challenges or the years it would take to amend the First Amendment. We — those of us who value a free and responsible press — will still fight those who want to change the First Amendment.
It all comes down to Alberto Gonzales. The Attorney General should, forthwith, rescind the limitations on subpoenaing reporters’ testimony in the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual and order the U.S. attorneys to use grand juries to call Risen, Lichtblau, Priest and the others to testify under oath. If they refuse to reveal their sources, they should be held in contempt and jailed until they do. When the leakers are discovered, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, regardless of who they are: Senators, staffers, CIA employees and all the rest. Expose them, shame them, and put them in jail where they belong. The duty is yours, General Gonzales. Why aren’t you doing it this very day?
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004) and, with Edward Timperlake, Showdown: Why China Wants War With the United States (Regnery, May 2006 — click here to obtain a free chapter).
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