If there was ever an example of politicians being too influenced by the media or vice-versa, this is it: A bill that would create new penalties for national security leakers may be softened because of complaints of how it would affect the press. As a member of said press, let me assure you all that not all of us are so eager to break new stories that we would do so on the advice of a source who can’t be trusted. It makes us look stupid, and it makes their entire organization’s credibility look invisible.
The bill, currently before the Senate Intelligence Committee before going to the chamber floor, would do the following:
- strip guilty intelligence officials of their press-leaking clearances;
- block them from contacting the media, even after they are no longer employed within the government;
- require congressional notification of all authorized leaks of classified material;
- and revoke pensions for intelligence community members who have committed a crime-level leak and have been convicted for such.
Doesn’t seem so bad, if you’re the type of person who believes, as I do, that classification can be essential to the success of a national security operation. Let’s hear from the other side:
In July, more than a dozen civil-liberties groups sent an open letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee claiming the anti-leak measures could instigate “suspicion, speculation or . . . retaliation” against members of the intelligence community. “This policy does not protect our nation’s legitimate secrets, but instead opens the door to abuse and chills critical disclosures of wrongdoing,” according to the letter.
I’m going to go out on a limb and speculate that the author of this letter is a WikiLeaks fan. What, exactly, qualifies as a “legitimate secret” in their opinion? Either way, someone who is so desperate to get the truth to the public should be willing to face punishment for their actions. They would be as subject to these punishments as someone who revealed something legally and ethically proper, but still classified (a “legitimate secret”).
As for “hampering media access,” the central complaint of opponents to this bill, let me speak for the media again: We can live with these. Security leaks are definitely juicy, especially when you’re the only media outlet to know about them. But whenever we have a national security story to cover, there are plenty of people who can speculate about them without giving anything away, until we’re all allowed to know everything. Not as interesting, but that’s not the biggest deal.