Congress needs to look at source of security leaks

Unfortunately, some members of Congress are fixated on news outlets that print the material rather than the government officials who leak it.


In recent weeks information related to three separate national security leaks were published.

Members of Congress are outraged. They should be.

But their outrage is misplaced. They are angry at the messengers -- the news media -- while seemingly giving those who leaked the information a de facto pass.

At a meeting of the House Judiciary subcommittee last week, majority Republicans pressed legal experts on whether it was possible to punish reporters for publishing classified information, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In recent weeks The New York Times and other news outlets published detailed accounts about cyber warfare, the slaying of Osama bin Laden and alleged "kill lists" maintained for targeting foreign terrorists.

It is not the role of the news media to protect government secrets, it is to inform the public.

Yes, newspapers and other media outlets have a moral obligation to be prudent in making decisions on what to publish. Information that is a legitimate national security concern and would likely put lives in danger should not be published, but withholding publication to save government officials from embarrassment should not even be considered.

Some of the information now stamped classified should have never been declared "secret." The stamp is too often used to shield officials from embarrassment.

The decision to publish should ultimately be based on the need to inform the people.

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., made the point that some leaks have revealed abuses by government officials. He specifically cited the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Congress needs to step back, put emotion aside and consider the root problem.

Bruce Brown, a partner at Baker & Hostetler law firm, said the focus by Congress must be on updating outdated laws like the Espionage Act to protect government interests.

"What's unfortunate is that rather than grappling with this question in a measured, rationale way, whenever disclosures are in the headlines then lawmakers have a tendency to latch on to this area," Brown said.

The fact is leaks of classified materials occurred. The New York Times didn't leak the information, government officials did. Don't punish the messenger, plug the leak.


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