The New York Times has published military secrets that have significantly undermined national security and the war effort in Ukraine – and not just once, but twice.
The leaks have to do with America’s role in the killing of an unprecedented number of Russian generals (12 to be exact) and the sinking of Putin’s flagship, the Moskva.
According to the reports, both these accomplishments depended on United States intelligence identifying the targets and providing real-time location information.
For those supporting America’s role in opposing Putin, those events are commendable. And as is the case in many successful military operations, secrecy is exceedingly important. Revealing those actions – even after-the-fact – undermines the American war effort. It reveals to Putin both the abilities of the United States and the depth of commitment to defeating Putin.
In addition, it provides Putin with an important propaganda point and a rationale for escalating his barbaric invasion. There can be no question but that the publication of that information aided and abetted Putin.
There was no need or reason for the public to have that information. At best, the motivation of the Times and other media outlets was to gain attention and readers/viewers for their news platforms – and an ego-based action by reporters wanting to gain attention – and maybe even a Pulitzer Prize. Maybe the basis for yet another of those ubiquitous books by reporters.
A more sinister motive may have been to actually hurt the war effort by those on the left who seem to operate from a position of universal condemnation of all that is America. Perhaps it was to use the exposure of the information in an effort to get the United States to back away from even its limited commitment to Ukraine.
Whatever, the action was treacherous. And it goes beyond the person who may have leaked such highly classified information to the reporter who took it … and the news editors and producers who made it a top-of-the-news story. It is impossible to believe that anyone in this chain of information believed the exposure of America’s role would be beneficial to America or Ukraine. They cannot be that stupid.
Defense Department spokesman Admiral John Kirby understated the reality when he said that the revelation of the information was “not helpful.” He and others tried to minimize the negative impact of military operations by saying that while the U.S. did provide general intelligence on identity and locations, the American government was not involved in the actual decision to sink the Moskva and kill all those generals. That explanation provides about as much cover as a stripper’s g-string.
Putin did not waste any time in using the information to his advantage – pointing to it as proof that America was deeply involved in a proxy war against the people of Russia. That leaker, reporter, and those editors and producers gave Putin that talking point.
They violated a longstanding tradition of keeping secrets even when they learn them. In the past, a patriotic press often withheld critical classified information from the public when such revelations would impact negatively on war operations.
The Fourth Estate enjoys unique exceptions from criminal charges when they become aware of a crime. They can interview criminals that are being sought without having to reveal where they are. They can publish stolen documents. They can reveal classified information – as they did in this case.
To understand the scope of the press privileged, you only need to recall that the person who took the information and the reporter who revealed it are being praised by their colleagues. No one is accusing them of misusing secret information. However, President Trump was admonished in the news media for taking documents – including classified documents – to Mar-a-Lago as he left the White House – and he had the power to declassify those documents. (I am not attempting to justify Trump’s taking White House documents. That is a different issue). And, you may also recall that General David Petraeus was sentenced to two years of probation and fined $100,000 for removing classified information. Many called for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be locked up for removing classified documents from a protected server.
But never are the leakers or the press held accountably.
Perhaps the problem is exacerbated by a lack of enforcement. And it is not only about military secrets. It was not long ago that leaking information from a grand jury hearing was prosecuted as a crime. It just was not done. Now, grand juries leak like a rusty bucket.
Congress often holds secret meetings. That once meant that neither the media nor the public gained access to the information. Now leaking tidbits of information from the most secret sessions are routinely used as a partisan weapon. (Recall how Congressman Adam Schiff claimed to have seen conclusive evidence that Trump had criminally conspired with Russia? Special Counsel Robert Mueller put the lie to that one.)
Perhaps it is time to revisit the news media’s privilege to be exempt from the same laws that we common folks must obey. We do not need to impose some Draconian legal ban on the use of all leaked information, but we should be able to hold leakers and the news media responsible for leaks that damage national security or undermine justice.
We are also dealing with the unprecedented leak of that draft opinion on Roe v. Wade. The person who did that did not have the best interest of America at heart. Maybe they hope to be the next “Anonymous”?
For the good of the country, we are going to have to fine-tune our policy on leaking – taking into account the arguable benefits of whistle-blowers who reveal wrongdoing by corporations or government and those whose leaks are malicious and damaging.
So, there ‘tis.