Joel Mowbray

While the media has obsessed over two high-profile cases in recent months involving improper handling of classified information, communications involving terrorists have been getting translated by people without any security clearances—and there’s been nary a whimper from most of the Washington press corps.

There are 119 inmates in the federal prison system with “specific ties” to international Islamic terrorist organizations, and almost all of them are able to communicate with the outside world through phone calls and letters.  (Full disclosure: this journalist broke the story on the front page of the Washington Times two weeks ago.)  Not only did the Bureau of Prisons have, until recently, no full-time Arabic translators, but the people they were—and still are—using have undergone no special background check beyond the pro forma one conducted on all federal employees.

To put it simply, the communications of 119 convicted and suspected terrorists housed in federal prisons are being handled by people who have no security clearances.  They haven’t been put through a polygraph test, had their family histories thoroughly vetted, their character analyzed, or their neighbors interviewed—all basic elements of investigations required before granting someone security clearances.

While the mainstream press has showed little appetite for a story with obvious national security implications, it has feasted on every morsel in the Karl Rove-Joe Wilson-Valerie Plame kerfuffle.  It’s true that the law may have been broken, but that is the job of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to determine.  Yet the press corps has been playing judge and jury, analyzing what we do know—from every possible angle.

But as it stands now, it appears that no law was broken.  Mike Isikoff at Newsweek has provided the most information, and his reporting on an e-mail written by Time reporter Matt Cooper suggests that the journalist brought up the topic of Wilson and that Rove mentioned neither Ms. Plame’s name nor her covert status.  This doesn’t necessarily mean no laws were broken, but it should at the least dampen the hyperbolic speculation. 

Unfortunately, it hasn’t.

Another recent scandal centered on classified information was also quite the rage—until getting bumped by the now white-hot Plame game.  Defense Department analyst Larry Franklin was charged with improper handling of classified information, allegedly discussing the administration's internal policy debates on Iran with lobbyists from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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