Back during the Civil War, both Gen. William T. Sherman and his boss, Gen. U.S. Grant expressed their contempt for the press, insisting that the (alleged) gentlemen of the Fourth Estate made a habit of aiding and abetting the enemy by publishing their plans and battlefield strategies.
In an order issued on Jan. 20, 1862, Sherman wrote that movements and operations of his forces published by the press have thus "furnished the enemy with indications highly prejudicial to the interests of the service." He went on to remind the press that the 57th article of war "declares the furnishing of information to the enemy, whether directly or indirectly a capital offence."
Things haven't changed that much since Sherman's day, they've gotten worse as witnessed the comment of Mike Wallace back in 1987 during an edition of the PBS panel series "Ethics in America," when he proclaimed that if he were traveling with enemy soldiers he would not warn U.S. soldiers of an impending ambush.
“Don't you have a higher duty as an American citizen to do all you can to save the lives of soldiers rather than this journalistic ethic of reporting fact?" moderator Charles Ogletree Jr. suggested. Without hesitating, Wallace responded: "No, you don't have higher duty . . . you're a reporter."
In other words, an act of treason which would result in the deaths of American soldiers is permissible to reporters.
Then we have the routine publishing of vital national security secrets that has been constantly recurring during the present war against terrorism. In some cases vital intelligence breakthroughs that have enabled the U.S. to cripple al-Qaida operations have been exposed rendering an intelligence coup worthless.
Take the case of The New York Times disclosure of the Treasury Department’s top-secret TFTP program to monitor terror funding which had been frustrating the global movement of al-Qaida funds — a disclosure that President Bush said “does great harm to the United States of America.”
According to National Review, "By all accounts, the program has been a ringing success. The administration maintains that the TFTP has been central to mapping terror cells and their tentacles, and to shutting off their funding spigot. It has resulted in at least one major domestic prosecution for providing material support to al-Qaida. It has also led to the apprehension of one of the jihad’s most insulated and ruthless operatives, Jemaah Islamiya’s Riduan Isamuddin, who is tied to the 2002 Bali bombing."
The leak was, NR wrote in on June 26, 2006, "a matter of interest mainly to al Qaeda. The terrorists will now adapt. They will find new ways of transferring funds, and precious lines of intelligence will be lost. Murderers will get the resources they need to carry out their grisly business. As for the real public interest, it lies primarily in safety — and what the Times has ensured is that the public today is less safe."
The Times' response to complaints that their continuing exposure of national security secrets was editor Bill Keller's promise that the Times would continue revealing such matters whenever it unilaterally decided that doing so was in the public interest. The Times, it seems, considers itself to be the ultimate judge of what is in the public interest.
Now we have a new incident where the disclosure of intelligence secrets has deprived U.S. Intelligence agencies of yet another window into al-Qaida's covert operations.
As The New York Sun reported on Oct. 9, "Al-Qaeda's Internet communications system has suddenly gone dark to American intelligence after the leak of Osama bin Laden's September 11 speech inadvertently disclosed the fact that we had penetrated the enemy's system."
According to the Sun, the problem resulted from the disclosure that the federal government "had intercepted, a full four days before it was to be aired, a video of Osama bin Laden's first appearance in three years in a video address marking the sixth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001." On the morning of Sept. 7, the Web site of ABC News posted excerpts from the speech.
That disclosure from ABC and later other news organizations, the Sun reported, "tipped off Qaeda's internal security division that the organization's Internet communications system, known among American intelligence analysts as Obelisk, was compromised."
The al-Qaida network of Web sites, the Sun wrote, "serves not only as the distribution system for the videos produced by Al Qaeda's production company, As-Sahab, but also as the equivalent of a corporate intranet, dealing with such mundane matters as expense reporting and clerical memos to mid- and lower-level Qaeda operatives throughout the world."
The paper quoted one intelligence officer as reporting that the intelligence community watched in real time the shutdown of the Obelisk system. The U.S agents monitoring the Obelisk network were able to see "the order to shut down the system delivered from Qaeda's internal security to a team of technical workers in Malaysia. That was the last internal message America's intelligence community saw, he said. "We saw the whole thing shut down because of this leak," the official said. "We lost an important keyhole into the enemy."
At what point does the press's freedom to satisfy what they see as the public's right to know become the press's freedom to commit treason?
Phil Brennan is a veteran journalist and WWII Marine who writes for NewsMax.com. He is editor and publisher of Wednesday on the Web (http://www.pvbr.com) and was Washington columnist for National Review magazine in the 1960s.
He also served as a staff aide for the House Republican Policy Committee and helped handle the Washington public relations operation for the Alaska Statehood Committee which won statehood for Alaska.
He is also a trustee of the Lincoln Heritage Institute and a member of the Association For Intelligence Officers.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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