Tuesday, June 27, 2006
New York Times Crosses the Line
Ilana Freedman, a security and counterterrorism analyst and occasional columnist for the New York Post, forwarded me the following column; she says that no one, thus far, has been willing to print it. You saw it here first, folks!
(Full disclosure: in addition to her many professional qualifications, Mrs. Freedman is also my mother, and I'm very proud to be her son.)
When does freedom of the press become a threat to freedom? The lead story in Sunday’s New York Times, “US General in Iraq Outlines Troop Cuts,” (June 25, 2006) may provide an answer.
The released information, which the Times audaciously attributed to “a classified briefing at the Pentagon”, took a major leap past the boundaries of the public’s right to know. It gave aid and comfort, not to mention military intelligence, to an enemy that is killing our soldiers in Iraq every day. Their action borders on treason.
The article came hard on the heels of another revelation only two days before. In a lead story on June 23, the Times released classified information about a secret government program that traced the international flow of terrorist funds. These funds, conservatively estimated in the trillions of dollars, support everything from bombs and guns to bribes and diplomatic payoffs, from international drug trafficking to terrorist recruitment and field training.
Anyone who truly understands the implications of the terrorist threat, recognizes that one of the critical ways that we can stop the proliferation of these activities is to stem the flow of money that funds them. We must be able to track the money trail in order to halt the transfers of funds and money laundering.
By exposing the government’s classified program to trace terrorism financing, the NY Times has done more than a colossal disservice to the administration. They have made it exponentially more difficult for the government to carry out what is an absolutely essential part of our war against terrorism. In so doing, they have put America in great jeopardy.
The latest NY Times article has compounded the damage in another area, one that is no less serious. The article was no doubt intended to influence public opinion on the progress of a war from which it wishes us to withdraw. But the publication of critical and classified military intelligence on the possible conduct of that war will put our troops on the ground at even greater risk than they now face.
The clear message to the terrorist forces laying roadside IEDs and targeting our soldiers with ambushes, torture, and brutal murder, is that their tactics have already defeated us and that we are now planning our retreat. They think with a simple Middle Eastern clarity which equates power with success, and retreat with defeat.
The article described in detail the planned troop withdrawal, including the broad outlines of the timetable and even the number of brigades that will be shipped out of Iraq in the first redeployment.
The NY Times is guilty of more than putting our troops at risk. They are also responsible for sending a damning message to those to whom we have pledged our support and the allies who joined us in this effort. The story tells the Iraqi leadership that in the end, the words of our envoys are meaningless, and that our support cannot be counted upon. All of our efforts to bolster their courageous struggle to build a true democracy out of the ashes of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime are put at risk by such reckless and irresponsible journalism.
But the publication of classified intelligence is only the upper layer of a much deeper story. What the Times published was fed to them by one or more people who hold trusted and sensitive positions in our government. Those who attended the meeting which the Times reported, are senior level officials with top security clearance. The story specified that the intelligence about the briefing came directly from senior American officials “who agreed to discuss the details only on condition of anonymity”. No surprise there. But who, among the military and defense leaders would be so willing to compromise our nation’s security? And to what end?
The NY Times article points to the clear presence, within the administration’s inner circle, of people who are working to undermine the President’s program during a time of war. The leak breached every rule that protects our security at the highest levels. The one who leaked it should be identified. No one who attended that briefing should escape investigation in order to discover the source of the leak.
At a time when the President has come under scathing attack for secretiveness, it is becoming increasingly clear that he has reason for concern about the loyalty of those on whom he must rely.
The people do not ‘need to know’ about the thought processes and appropriately secret discussions of our military leaders as they plan their strategies in this difficult war. Anyone who abuses his access to these briefings and discussions, to leak to the press intelligence of what was discussed under the mantle of secrecy, should be punished to the full extent of the law. He has put the lives of our soldiers, the success of our policy, and the future of our country at risk.
It is now incumbent upon our President to identify those among his ‘trusted’ advisors who are in fact betraying his administration and the public’s trust. It is imperative that he rout them from the inner circles of government in order to stop the hemorrhaging of critical, classified intelligence that is damaging our national security.
Moreover, the strategies that have now been compromised need to be changed. Otherwise the fate of our country will be at the mercy of our enemies. No battle strategies in today’s war against terrorism will succeed unless they are as agile and fluid as that of the enemy within and without. There should be no higher priority than to create a safe and secure environment for the critical processes that define the strategies of this latest war.