In a Slate forum, University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner, author of Terror in the Balance: Security, Liberty, and the Courts explains: “The May, 2012 AP story that’s at issue disclosed that the CIA thwarted a terrorist plot to plant a bomb on a plane flying to the United States from Yemen…“[A]nyone who read the story could infer that U.S. or foreign agents had penetrated al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate. Even if AP delayed publication…the information disclosed may have put the lives of agents in danger or disclosed intelligence methods or simply made foreign intelligence agencies yet again doubt the U.S. government’s ability to keep secrets. The story identifies its sources as U.S. government officials, who clearly violated federal secrecy law.”
As the New York Times later documented, a Saudi intelligence agent infiltrated al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He volunteered to carry a newly designed bomb aboard a U.S.-bound airliner, but delivered it to the CIA instead. The AP story blew his cover, endangering lives, and inhibiting the search for the bomb maker himself. Some scoop, eh?
The allegedly terrible violation of the AP’s rights came after a months-long investigation of 550 possible sources. It involved investigators scrutinizing three days of telephone logs to see if possible suspects had talked to reporters. Nobody’s been arrested. You’d hope that even the braggart CIA leaker would be smarter than to leave a trail of breadcrumbs.
As for James Rosen and Fox News, the phrase that doubtless caught investigators’ eyes in an otherwise humdrum story about North Korea’s planned responses to UN sanctions was “the Central Intelligence Agency has learned, through sources inside North Korea.”
That would be paranoid, nuclear-armed North Korea, which, as Reuters columnist Jack Shafer put it, no doubt commenced its own “leak probe that made the U.S. investigation look like the prosecution of a parking ticket.”
Shafer suspects that even Fox would retract the story if it could. My own experience of Washington journalism has persuaded me that the actual practices of news organizations bear little relationship to the high-minded rhetoric they employ whenever their prerogatives are threatened.
Forced to choose, I’d sooner trust my rights and freedoms to an independent judiciary.
Copyright 2013 The National Memo