Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Freedom of the Press Versus National Security

It would seem that the fundamental mindset of the main stream press has changed in recent decades. Unfortunately that change has not been for the better either. From the 1970’s when Daniel Ellsberg released the highly classified Pentagon Papers to the New York Times to discredit the government and multiple presidential administrations regarding our fighting of the Vietnam war to the more recent egregious late 2005 leak to the New York Times of the Bush administration’s tracking of al Qaeda communications, the press has been aiding and abetting our enemies. Indeed six months after the 2005 story, the New York Times had a front page publication of leaked highly secret information identifying the Bush administration’s ability to track international bank transfers that were being used to track terrorist financing plots. This was particularly pernicious in that the New York Times also included names and current burgeoning plots in their story.

Such breaches by the press of publishing national secrets, particularly in war time, allowed al Qaeda to change their operational plans and security accordingly, thus making it much harder for our intelligence agencies to track them and ultimately to keep us safe.

Such “journalists” from the Pentagon Papers fiasco to recent times have claimed “unfettered freedom of action with accountability to no one but themselves.” The Supreme Court ruled after the Pentagon Papers incident that if a published story of national security damaging information warranted it, prosecution after the fact of publication was possible. Unfortunately many presidential administrations’ justice departments have failed to do so.

It is discouraging to see how far we have sunk since World War II when FDR had even gone so far as to established the Office of Censorship. This program was voluntary and journalists headed up the office. Their task was to ensure that all journalists were notified which stories not to print so as to not endanger our troops or do anything untoward that could harm our national defense accordingly. Journalist back then understood what was at stake and voluntarily complied with these requested restrictions on the press. Today, one wonders if the current attitude of the main stream press would have prevented them from leaking the United States’ Manhattan Project (the atomic bomb) to the world had it had been leaked to them. The press absolutely has a right and indeed a duty and obligation to keep the government in check, but they do not have the right to endanger our nation and its vital interests for its survival in doing so.

Unfortunately such publishing of vital national secrets has gone back a long way. Indeed a gentleman named Herbert Yardley, who was a government code breaker, decided to have his story published about how he broke Japanese ciphers after the conclusion of World War I. The Japanese upgraded their ciphers accordingly and thus we were blind to the Pearl Harbor attack which started World War II for us. Had Mr. Yardley’s ego not been involved and a press was unwilling to print this, we might well have averted the loss of 3000 people on December 7th, 1941. Luckily this behavior used to be quite rare, although in Mr. Yardley’s singular case, also quite devastating.

Also unfortunately, we did not learn from that mistake as the New York Times and other like-minded publications continues to publish national security secrets with reckless abandon. Evidently they feel the need to relay that information to the public, and our enemies, and that this “right” trumps their responsibilities as Americans.

The government in the past has often times tried to prosecute individual journalists involved in such leaks instead of also prosecuting the entity (newspaper typically) that was responsible for publishing such a story that was known to violate secrecy pledges or espionage laws. If the Justice Department were to make an example of the next newspaper etc that did so, perhaps a little bit more restraint and common sense in protecting our nation through responsible journalism would ensue.

Such a case should definitely be applied to the recent case of PFC Bradley Manning’s leak of highly classified material on the war in Afghanistan to Wikileaks. Such material was vetted by the New York Times and published on Wikileaks. Aside from the prosecution of Manning to the fullest extent that the UCMJ allows, the DOJ should prosecute any news agency in the United States that had anything nefarious to do with this story’s publication and then they should file suit against the Swedish based Wikileaks.

It is far past the time when the press should no longer be able to hide behind their first amendment rights at the cost of American lives. The Bill of Rights was never intended to be a “get out of jail” card for irresponsible journalists and the publishers of their anti-American agenda. It’s time that our government enforce this to the fullest extent of the law accordingly.

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