What do you call someone who, in violation of her oath, reveals government secrets to a reporter, who then prints them and exposes a clandestine operation designed to get information from suspected terrorists that could save American lives?
Here is what one dictionary says about that word: "One who betrays another's trust or is false to an obligation or duty." The word so defined is traitor.
The Central Intelligence Agency fired an intelligence officer after determining she leaked classified information to a Washington Post reporter about secret overseas prisons used for interrogating suspected terrorists. News reports say the fired employee is Mary McCarthy, who has denied being the source of the leaks. McCarthy was appointed by former National Security Adviser Samuel Berger as special assistant to President Bill Clinton and senior director for Intelligence Programs. Berger has had his own problems with classified documents. In 2005, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges that he stole five copies of highly classified terrorism documents while doing "research" at the National Archives building.
Virtually all people who handle classified documents, whether members of Congress or their staff, or employees of the Central Intelligence Agency, take an oath not to reveal those documents to anyone without proper authorization. McCarthy is alleged to have violated that oath. Such oaths are nothing new. They extend back to the founding of the nation.
On Nov. 9, 1775, the Continental Congress adopted its own oath of secrecy. The language may seem antiquated, but it appeals to character qualities that appear to be in short supply today: "Resolved: That every member of this Congress considers himself under the ties of virtue, honour and love of his country, not to divulge, directly or indirectly, any matter or thing agitated or debated in Congress . which a majority of the Congress shall order to be kept secret. And that if any member shall violate this agreement, he shall be expelled (from) this Congress, and deemed an enemy to the liberties of America, and liable to be treated as such."
Virtue? Honour? Love of his country? Where does one see such character qualities lauded or even taught in contemporary culture? Certainly not often in the media.
The Washington Post's Dana Priest won the Pulitzer Prize for printing secrets allegedly leaked to her by McCarthy. Priest also won a George Polk Award and a prize from the Overseas Press Club. Leonard Downie Jr., the Post's executive editor, said people who provide citizens the information they need to hold their government accountable should not "come to harm for that."
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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