Conflicting Principles In Searching For Leak On Al Qaeda Informant

I’ve had several posts recently about two of the “scandals” surrounding the Obama administration. In one case, Benghazi, there is no real scandal–just another case of Republicans distorting the facts. In the case of the IRS, we have the rare case of Republicans being right about wrong-doing, but wrong in trying to tie this to Obama. The subpoena of AP records regarding sources on a story about a planned terrorist attack is more difficult to characterize. In this case, Republicans aren’t attacking Obama because they have no qualms about infringing upon First Amendment liberties, but many liberals are concerned.

Jack Shafer of Reuters has an excellent review of this case and his entire post should be read. He began:

Journalists gasp and growl whenever prosecutors issue lawful subpoenas ordering them to divulge their confidential sources or to turn over potential evidence, such as notes, video outtakes or other records. It’s an attack on the First Amendment, It’s an attack on the First Amendment, It’s an attack on the First Amendment, journalists and their lawyers chant. Those chants were heard this week, as it was revealed that Department of Justice prosecutors had seized two months’ worth of records from 20 office, home and cell phone lines used by Associated Press journalists in their investigation into the Yemen underwear-bomber leaks.

First Amendment radicals — I count myself among them — resist any and all such intrusions: You can’t very well have a free press if every unpublished act of journalism can be co-opted by cops, prosecutors and defense attorneys. First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams speaks for most journalists when he denounces the “breathtaking scope” of the AP subpoenas. But the press’s reflexive protests can prevent it from seeing the story in full, which I think is the case in the current leaks investigation.

See the full article for the specifics, but the gist of this is that the Obama administration’s concern here was not with preventing the press from publishing their reports but uncovering a leak. Also, this is not a case of someone leaking information which we necessarily wanted to get out, but the fact that an al Qaeda plot to bomb an airplane bound for the United States was stopped due to having an informant  recruited by British intelligence inside of al Qaeda.

Shafer concluded:

To begin with, the perpetrators of a successful double-agent operation against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula would not want to brag about their coup for years. Presumably, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will now use the press reports to walk the dog back to determine whose misplaced trust allowed the agent to penetrate it. That will make the next operation more difficult. Other intelligence operations — and we can assume they are up and running — may also become compromised as the press reports give al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula new clues.

Likewise, the next time the CIA or foreign intelligence agency tries to recruit a double agent, the candidate will judge his handlers wretched secret keepers, regard the assignment a death mission and seek employment elsewhere.

Last, the leaks of information — including those from the lips of Brennan, Clarke and King — signal to potential allies that America can’t be trusted with secrets. “Leaks related to national security can put people at risk,” as Obama put it today in a news conference.

The ultimate audience for the leaks investigation may not be domestic but foreign. Obviously, the government wants to root out the secretspillers. But a country can’t expect foreign intelligence agencies to cooperate if it blows cover of such an operation. I’d wager that the investigations have only begun.

Since 9/11 there have been many situations where the government has gone overboard in placing security (and sometimes false claims of security) over civil liberties. The answer on this one is certainly not clear.

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