Cal  Thomas

Parts of Washington, D.C., are under water following record rainfall, but leaks into basements and government offices aren't as big a problem as leaks coming out of some government agencies.

A recent leak to The New York Times and some other newspapers revealed a previously secret program by the Bush administration to examine foreign banking transactions in its pursuit of terrorists with ties to al-Qaida. The banking transactions mostly involve wire transfers and other methods of moving money overseas. This isn't about examining our canceled checks for items that might embarrass us before prying eyes.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow came up with a sound bite most people will understand: "The New York Times and other news organizations ought to think long and hard about whether a public's right to know in some cases might override somebody's right to live."

President Bush went further. He said disclosure of the program is "disgraceful," and then he got to the real culprit: "For people to leak that program and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America."

Whatever the culpability of the Times and the other newspapers (more about that in a moment), the first harm was caused by the person, or persons, who leaked the secret information. It probably violated the oath that allowed them to have their jobs and draw their paychecks from our tax dollars. In other wars, such behavior might have resulted in the perpetrator being shot as a traitor. Today, anyone with a political ax to grind can leak classified information in order to undermine an administration with which the person does not agree. The decent thing to do would be to resign in protest, but today's traitors keep their jobs and their paychecks and live to leak another day. They should be hunted down and prosecuted.

As for The New York Times, executive editor Bill Keller issued a condescending statement, possibly in response to an avalanche of critical mail. Keller wraps himself in the words of the Founding Founders, who, he says, "rejected the idea that it is wise, or patriotic, to always take the President at his word, or to surrender to the government important decisions about what to publish." As a regular reader of The New York Times, I can say that the newspaper rarely, if ever, takes President Bush at his word.

Cal Thomas

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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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