Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. – U. S. Constitution, First Amendment
The past few weeks have been interesting, to say the least. For me, they have been thought-provoking. Not being a professional journalist, I admit to only a cursory knowledge of protocol concerning the media and national security. Current events have cured me of that.
The Associated Press and Fox News scandals are huge. This is not like Umbrella-gate, which was ridiculous. Even the IRS intrusion takes a back seat to this debacle. The intrusion into the rights of the media to gather and report important information should concern us all. Not because we finally have some conspiracy to pin on Obama, but because it is a possible infringement of rights.
Whenever there is a clash between an administration and the media, “national security” is at stake. While national security has no official definition, we believe it to mean the protection and safety of our citizens and our secrets. This safety is secured through economic, political, diplomatic, and military power. In essence, each administration is allowed the freedom to determine what places “it” at risk.
So, let’s take on the Fox scandal first. The national security in this case involved North Korea, and its plan to respond to U.N. sanctions with more nuclear tests. The CIA, allegedly, learned this information from a source within North Korea. James Rosen’s (Fox News contributor) story was reported online the same day that the top-secret report was revealed to a small group within the intelligence community. Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a government advisor, was among that small group. The FBI used security badge data, phone records, and email exchanges to tie the two men together. The pair spoke/met on several occasions, even going so far as to use code names. Kim was charged, in 2010, with disclosing national defense information. Rosen, while not charged, has been labeled a “co-conspirator”.
This case is disturbing. While I am no fan of Fox news, the labeling of Rosen as a co-conspirator is unacceptable. The nature of a reporter’s job is to uncover information (whether a current administration likes it or not) and report it. Rosen conspired to do nothing, but his job. My issue here is with the administration. When a trusted advisor chose to leak top-secret information, the Justice department should have dealt solely with him. Rosen was well within his rights, as a reporter, to “solicit” information. The ownership belongs to Kim. My issue is not so much the investigation, but the attack on Rosen for reporting the news provided to him.
The AP story is a little more complex. With the help of foreign intelligence agencies, an undercover informant infiltrated the leadership of al-Qaeda. “The spy in question infiltrated AQAP, retrieved its latest non-metalic underwear bomb and delivered it to U.S. authorities”. Our government had hoped to be led to Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, the bomb’s creator. Officials claimed that the opportunity was destroyed and the informant was compromised when the story of the foiled plot was reported. There are reports that AP sat on the story, for days, at the request of the CIA. Once given clearance, the story ran.
This case disturbs me, as well, but for an entirely different reason. For me, it is not open and shut. True, the AP story never revealed the name of the informant, like Cheney’s office outed Valerie Plame. But, it is possible that an opportunity to locate and/or capture al-Asiri was lost. It appears as though John Brennan’s (then counter-terrorism advisor) “inside control” comments propelled the story and revealed the more intimate details of the plot. If security was at risk, an explanation of how should have been provided, and the source of the leak addressed.
I am bothered that the MSM has become a way to turn a profit, making whistleblowers like Julian Assange necessary. Security leaks are not new, and in fact, have become quite necessary. Without unofficial accounts, we might be woefully uninformed, as conventional media has become more sensationalism than facts. However, I am uncomfortable with the surveillance of media, by any administration. I am equally uncomfortable with the public’s feeling of entitlement where news is concerned. Around the clock news has encouraged this mentality.
This is a time to question. Do we have a right to know all? And, if we do, how soon should we learn it? What constitutes a national security threat? And, in cases where applicable, should a member of the press be held accountable for taking what was given? How far are we willing to go in the name of fighting terrorism? What is an appropriate balance between security and liberty?
Any administration using national security as justification for surveillance warrants investigation. In the wake of 9/11, fear introduced us to warrantless wire taps, restrictions of individual rights, and unconstitutional imprisonment. Rights of the people vs national security is a delicate balance. We expect our rights to be uncontested. Yet, we expect our government to keep us as safe.
Keeping our citizens safe is not an implied duty. Our constitution gives that power to the government. That being said, our constitution gives us power, as well. The actions of the last two administrations set a dangerous precedent moving forward. We have accepted infringement too many times in the past, without question, because we were afraid. So, we must question.
And, we must DEMAND answers.