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March 5, 2006
Press Finds Petards Most Uncomfortable, Once Hoisted

The Washington Post uses its front page today to note that the Bush administration has taken a hard line on leaks of classified information, apparently taking the law more seriously than previous administrations. In this lengthy complaint about the aggressiveness of the administration in protecting classified information during wartime -- Nixon gets more than one mention here -- the Post gives hardly any attention to the fact that the press started the entire effort with its hysteria over the Plame leak:

The Bush administration, seeking to limit leaks of classified information, has launched initiatives targeting journalists and their possible government sources. The efforts include several FBI probes, a polygraph investigation inside the CIA and a warning from the Justice Department that reporters could be prosecuted under espionage laws.

In recent weeks, dozens of employees at the CIA, the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies have been interviewed by agents from the FBI's Washington field office, who are investigating possible leaks that led to reports about secret CIA prisons and the NSA's warrantless domestic surveillance program, according to law enforcement and intelligence officials familiar with the two cases.

Numerous employees at the CIA, FBI, Justice Department and other agencies also have received letters from Justice prohibiting them from discussing even unclassified issues related to the NSA program, according to sources familiar with the notices. Some GOP lawmakers are also considering whether to approve tougher penalties for leaking.

Most ironically, Dan Eggen includes a statement from Bill Keller, the managing editor of the New York Times, whose paper demanded a thorough investigation and prosecution for the Valerie Plame leak ... at least until its own reporters got caught up in that investigation. After its revelation of the NSA surveillance program, Keller and the Times suddenly believe that investigating and prosecuting the release of classified information is a harbinger of oppression:

"There's a tone of gleeful relish in the way they talk about dragging reporters before grand juries, their appetite for withholding information, and the hints that reporters who look too hard into the public's business risk being branded traitors," said New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller, in a statement responding to questions from The Washington Post. "I don't know how far action will follow rhetoric, but some days it sounds like the administration is declaring war at home on the values it professes to be promoting abroad."

I suppose that tone of "gleeful relish" never entered the newsroom of the Times when it revealed the NSA intercepts, or at the Post when it revealed the existence of CIA detention centers in Europe, or when both papers rushed pictures of the Abu Ghraib abuses to their pages even though the Army had already discovered the problem and had already started investigating it. Both papers routinely publish leaks from all sides in Washington, classified or not, which made their outrage over the leak of Valerie Plame's status more than just a tad hypocritical, and Bill Keller gets the award for the highest hypocrisy of all.

At the time, many of us warned the media that its insistence on prosecution would lead to exactly this kind of government action. After all, if the leak of a CIA employee's name could cause a national-security crisis, which is what the Left screeched, then revealing the NSA program amounts to a national-security meltdown. Exposing the methods and facilities used by the CIA to detain and interrogate terrorists in order to prevent attacks not just on the US but also its allies undermines global security. Given the Plame precedent, the government has to investigate these as well, and that means more reporters on the hot seat, either testifying to their sources or facing long stretches for contempt.

The media could not see the forest for the trees, however. They rushed to get a chance to bash the Bush administration by professing to be shocked, shocked! that government officials would leak information to the press in order to benefit their causes. Now they're shocked that the administration has decided to take their advice and prosecute everyone that they can prove assisted in exposing secret programs designed to defend the nation from further terrorist attacks. Color me unimpressed by their outrage at being hoist upon their own petard.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 5, 2006 11:03 AM

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