For the second straight week, Washington, DC and the nation are reeling from headlines and news coverage of events on the national security stage. Last week, it was the Washington Post’s series on Top Secret America, which details the explosive growth of the intelligence apparatus since 9/11. This week, it is the release of nearly 92,000 pages of classified details on the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.
While the Post series had the cooperation of the public affairs operations with the various intelligence agencies, combined with the exhaustive research work of the series authors and support staff, the stories this week come courtesy of the WikiLeaks website. Described by CNN and other media outlets as a “whistleblower site,” WikiLeaks has effectively pulled back the curtain with U.S. military and intelligence documents that give no-holds-barred descriptions of the state of U.S. combat operations. Based upon what has been reported, the picture these documents paint is not very promising. While certainly making for an interesting and fascinating read, the release of these documents and the recent Post series begs the question: “Is there anything the media will not share?”
Despite the valid questions raised, I still have tremendous misgivings about what the Post printed last week, as I believe that in identifying the physical locations of critical public and private sector operations, the Post put every person at those places at a risk of greater harm from those who wish to do us harm.
As for the WikiLeaks postings, I find it equally deeply troubling that the President, his senior National Security Team and our military leadership can not obtain unvarnished reports without having the risk of someone, somewhere posting them for all to see. What has been shared is a tremendous violation of trust amongst military/intelligence personnel that goes beyond the traditional Washington leak to a reporter.
The actions taken by this leaker are also illegal. As anyone who has ever held a security clearance knows, when entrusted with such information, your mouth is to remain shut; you share nothing with anyone who is not properly cleared. If you have a problem with what you read and want to raise an objection, there are ways to do so without violating the code of trust you swore to uphold. If you break these tenets, you’ve committed a crime. Period.
I’m sure if the leaker of these documents is caught, he/she will claim all of the First Amendment, Freedom of the Press rights he/she can muster, but in the job they are supposed to be in, they are not acting as a journalist. They are acting as a criminal. Every military leader, including our Commander in Chief, should be afforded the ability to get unvarnished reporting of what is or is not happening on the battlefields where our military personnel serve and not have to see it spread over a newspaper or on the Internet for the world to also see.
The leaker in this case has a unique agenda to pursue and that should not be overlooked or forgotten. Regardless of whether the information is classified or unclassified, every leak to a reporter is about imposing an agenda for further distribution. It is obvious that the person behind this leak has grave reservations about a fight our President has declared “worth fighting.”
That is an argument that good people on both sides of that issue can debate, but doing so at the expense of releasing classified information is a bridge too far.
I am not naive enough to believe that everything in Afghanistan is going swimmingly. Nor do I believe that every word from our political and military establishment is absolute truth. But I am disturbed that in era where our media is in an ever present game of “gotcha,” media outlets feel the need to take one more step to share details that are classified for very good reasons.
For as interested as we may all be in what is really happening in the intelligence community and in Afghanistan, there is also a responsibility to not reveal everything. That is a line I think individuals and organizations like the WikiLeaks source, the Washington Post and others seem to cherish crossing. That’s an agenda in which I find little comfort.