Many on the left snickered last week when the U.S. Attorney General announced arrest of the Miami terrorists-in-training. Not exactly the brightest boys on virgin quest, not Osama, not significant. No? The Justice Department acknowledged that they were "aspirational" rather than "operational," but rolled them up anyway. Good.
Aspirational war protestors don't spend a lot of time studying war. Just saying no often enough and loudly enough, traveling in blog packs and crudely bashing the President can cover a lot of intellectual deficiencies out there in L-World.
Wars are fought on many fronts in many forms, tangible and psychological, all at the same time. Suicide bombers are largely precluded from the ranks of genius, but that makes them no less deadly. So those urchins weren't going to bring down the Sears Tower, not today, not tomorrow. You want them walking around anyway when they hit on a simple plan within their simple abilities? You think they are the only homegrown band of terrorist bros out there?
With the arrests, the Justice Department sent several messages: The next bunch of you who want to talk to Osama, think twice, because you may be talking to us. Be paranoid, be very paranoid. Humint and infiltration as disciplines are back.
We cite that example as a government calculation, in a multi-faceted global war on terror, that making the arrests sooner rather than later and publicizing same fulfills a valid tactical objective. Such is not always the case.
Would The New York Times have prematurely blown the Miami operation, had it been leaked to reporters? There was a time, not that long ago, when we would have emphatically opined no. Today, we simply don't know. We don't know why the once-greatest newspaper in the world has lost its judgment. We don't know why it is on a straight and narrow path to self-destruction, daily hastening its pace. We don't know why it seems intent on publishing classified national security information, recklessly plunging itself (and others with it) into a legal realm where press freedom is not constitutionally guaranteed, nor should it be.
The New York Times and its fellow travelers of the mainstream media are already facing steadily eroding market share and influence, naturally occurring as a result of technological progress, accelerated by an alternative media that needs no printing press clawing its way to acceptance and credibility.
Less than a week after The Times exposed the terrorist finance tracking program, legal scholars have already published a veritable encyclopedia of every aspect of laws that apply, with analysis, free for the internet searching. Researchers have shown The Times' own hypocrisy in editorially calling for virtually the program it has now blown. The history of the press versus the government on national security issues is flowing. Read one, follow the link to another and keep on going. Within hours you will know more than Messrs. Sulzberger and Keller do about what they have done.
We are among those who believe that the government should and must pursue criminal action against present and former government employees who leaked the classified information to The New York Times. While government leakers are notoriously hard to identify and prosecute, The New York Times knows exactly who they are. Times reporters and editors may be subpoenaed to provide that information. There is no federal shield law for journalists, and even if there were, it would not, could not and should not protect what The Times has done in this specific case.
Prosecuting The Times directly is within the scope of several laws. But that would take years, including multi-faceted and multi-level appellate review. Any ultimate outcome would be uncertain. That approach would do nothing, in any effective timeframe, to stop or curtail leaks at their sources.
Subpoenaed to identify criminal sources to a grand jury, those at The Times who know must comply or face jail for contempt. Ironically, such an approach could move at considerable speed (for the courts) because of the exceptionally fresh precedents set in the Judith Miller case (with which we don't totally agree, but that die is cast).
Whatever the political and public relations ramifications, and they are consequential, if the government walks away from this case, that will be dereliction and necessary national security secrecy will suffer immeasurably. It's going to be a tough call. But the public interest, the real and abiding public interest in protecting this country from all enemies foreign and domestic, not the "public interest" ego-driven fantasy of The New York Times, demands it.June 29, 2006