The Washington Post last week reported on the CIA's secret prisons throughout Europe and other areas around the world. I made the point over at the InterGalacticJester that the media's jumping at this story was hypocritical - no mention was made that to leak this type of information could easily be construed as a threat to national security. The simplest of many reasons this could threaten national security: If terrorists know where their captured friends are being held, they may try to attack the prison and free them. Then again, they may just bomb the place and consider their captured friends "martyrs".
Leaking secret government positions is dangerous - and even if in this case it does not pose a serious threat to national security, it sets a dangerous precedent on reporting CIA locations and/or tactics. Therefore, it was nice to see that the government has decided to take action in this case:
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert on Tuesday called for a congressional leak investigation into who told the news media about previously undisclosed U.S. interrogation centers abroad. "If accurate, such an egregious disclosure could have long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consequences, and will imperil our efforts to protect the American people and our homeland from terrorist attacks," Frist and Hastert said in a letter.We'll have to see what happens with this. I imagine the press will give little coverage of the story, in the hopes it will die down. Presumably, they have learned from the Plame affair. In that case, they pushed so hard to find out if there was a leak, and in the process a couple of reporters ended up in jail for not disclosing sources. The last thing the press needs is a law that requires them to divulge sources in cases such as this. Most likely, the press will let the story run its course this time - and hope that the reporter gets permission to name the sources outright.
If the reporter does not, the press will be in a bind: If the reporter names the leaker, the press will lose trust and credibility. No more anonymous sources will be willing to give reporters information, because the reporters will be required to divulge names if it gets investigated. If the reporter does not name names, the reporter will likely go to jail - and future reporters will be unwilling to work on any stories that are remotely questionable. This will devalue the press as a whole.
It is ironic that the press has done this to themselves. Would the press, as is often suggested, be a little more responsible in what they choose to report, they would not get caught in these sticky situations. The press has a responsibility to provide the people of this country with news that will inform them and serve the interests of the people. The interests of the people are not serviced when national security is threatened. The press should be more selective in the stories they print - often, it means holding off on a story until more details are gathered; rarely, it means not reporting the story at all.
I do not feel that there should be a law made which restricts reporters from submitting reports. I think that would be a dangerous precedent against the freedoms of the press. I do feel that the press should be more responsible in their reporting, or the government will likely feel forced to make such a law.
Responsibility is not exclusive to government officials - it is incumbent upon reporters as well.
[Now available at Basil and the Political Teen]