“The fact is that al Qaeda’s playbook is not printed on Page One and when America’s is, it has serious ramifications. You don’t need to be Sun Tzu to understand that.” — Thomas Duffy, White House spokesman
The New York Times will soon wish it hadn’t pushed so hard for a criminal investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity on the basis of national security violations. The Justice Department has now decided to act on the NYT’s publication of a top-secret NSA program in exactly the same manner for much clearer damage to national security, and the NYT’s James Risen and Eric Lichtblau find themselves in the Judith Miller Hotseat in this case:
The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the disclosure of classified information about a domestic surveillance program authorized by President Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, officials said today.
Justice prosecutors will examine whether classified information was unlawfully disclosed to the New York Times, which reported two weeks ago that the National Security Agency had been conducting electronic surveillance on U.S. citizens and residents without court-approved warrants.
The Times won’t find itself alone in the dock, however. The Washington Post will also have some dancing to do over its exposure of CIA detentions of terrorists captured abroad, endangering missions in Eastern Europe and undermining our wartime alliances:
The Justice Department has also opened a probe into whether classified information was illegally disclosed to The Washington Post, which reported on a network of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
Thomas Duffy at the White House has the best line on the new investigations, as I quoted at the start. That one leak started a flood of Big Brother hysteria that flooded the Exempt Media over the past month, most of it complete nonsense and almost all of it miscommunicated and misunderstood. The NSA program that the NYT “exposed” has less reach than the infamous Echelon program, reported by CBS News in 2000, but has specific application to suspected al-Qaeda assets and their contacts. Despite the continuing insistence of critics to call it “domestic spying”, the Times report clearly stated that domestic calls only got wiretapped after getting a FISA warrant, and that the presidential directive only applied to calls and communications that crossed international boundaries and did not appear to involve “US persons” as defined by FISA. Those communications don’t require a warrant at all, especially while the President works under a grant of war powers from Congress.
However, the exposure of the program and the wailing and gnashing of teeth have done two things for the enemies of the US. First and most generally, it has shown them that Americans have a problem getting serious about national defense even after the loss of 3,000 of its citizens after a terrorist attack. Second and more specifically, it reveals to them the broad strokes of how the NSA has gleaned enough information to frustrate their plans for more attacks on American cities. Both developments allow Islamofascist terrorists to recalculate their strategies and tactics in the future for greater success — which means Americans are more likely to die in an attack, thanks to the New York Times. As for the Post, they have made it more difficult for the CIA to get intelligence from captured AQ assets, thanks to their leak, and have made it much more difficult for European leaders to provide support and logistical assistance to our intelligence operations.
The pattern of leaks clearly shows that members of the intelligence community want to fight a war — but rather than fight a war against the terrorists that killed thousands of Americans and want to kill millions more, they’ve chosen to fight one against the elected civilian government of the US. For some strange reason, those who claim to love civil liberties have decided to take the side of the unelected bureaucrats in this Coup Of The Thousand Leaks. When partisan hatred meets with professional egotism, the resulting bedfellows turn strange indeed. The Justice Department needs to put an end to this wholesale dismantling of the national defenses that have kept the US safe from attack for the past four years, and do it quickly.
UPDATE: Mark Tapscott links back to me and, as a former newsman himself, muses about journalist shield laws:
Will any of the reporters who could now face jail time for not disclosing their sources be able to hold out as long as Judith Miller? Frankly, I doubt it, as Miller was caught up in a misguided Special Prosecutor drama that had everything but an actual crime.
This time around there is no question about serious crimes having been committed and only the most blindly obstinate professor of journalism will insist on the right of the relevant journalists at the Times, Post and elsewhere to protect the guilty parties.
I am generally a supporter of the strongest possible shield laws for journalists, but in these newest cases it seems most likely there will be no such legitimate place to afford cover for the recipients of the illegal leaks that almost certainly damaged national security and endangered the lives of thousands, possibly millions, of Americans.
I’m not as big on the shield laws as others. In this case, the people who came to the Times and the Post had plenty of other opportunities to blow the whistle through other means if the sources felt that the programs were illegal. They could have gone to Congress and forced hearings, a la Able Danger; I daresay they would have gotten more attention than Lt. Colonel Anthony Shaffer. They hardly needed to run to James Risen and Eric Lichtblau to expose top-secret American capabilities to everyone, including our enemies.
Be sure to read all of Mark’s commentary.