What's the difference between what Walker, Ames and Hanssen did -- and those who decided to "out" NSA and CIA efforts to track terrorist communications and financial data? Materially, there is no distinction. As in the earlier espionage cases, current and former U.S. government employees -- according to the NYT, "nearly 20" of them -- broke their oaths not to disclose classified information. Like Walker, Ames and Hanssen, "reporters," editors and publishers have hope that their exposes will result in substantial financial gain. Brutal adversaries with a proven penchant for killing innocent Americans have gained invaluable knowledge about our intelligence sources and methods. "Sources and methods." Remember those words. They are important.
In a candid letter to the editors of the New York Times, Treasury Secretary John Snow observed that the most recent revelations have "alerted terrorists to the methods and sources used to track their money trails." Vice President Cheney bluntly noted, "The New York Times has now made it more difficult for us to prevent attacks in the future. Publishing this highly classified information about our sources and methods for collecting intelligence will enable the terrorists to look for ways to defeat our efforts.""
The revelation of yet another super-secret operation to root out terrorists has prompted some in Congress to call for hauling editors of offending media outlets into court. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., has called on the Justice Department to prosecute the New York Times for "treasonous actions." As our FOX News "War Stories" documentary, "Deception In The Pacific" noted, that's what President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to do in June of 1942 when Robert McCormick's Chicago Tribune revealed that we had won the Battle of Midway because we had broken the Japanese JN-25 naval codes. Though the story did terrible damage, leading the Japanese to immediately change their codes, McCormick was never prosecuted -- in part because Admiral King, the Chief of Naval Operations, feared that a public trial would result in revelations about other ongoing intelligence operations.
That's just one reason why the "reporters," editors and publishers who repeatedly promulgate classified information will never be tried for treason. But that shouldn't be the case for the leakers. They clearly have broken the law -- and they need to be found, prosecuted, convicted and jailed -- for they are no different than Walker, Ames and Hanssen.
Defenders of what the NYT has done will claim that the press must "protect their sources" -- and not reveal the leakers. That too is wrong. The courts have the power to compel media moguls to reveal government employees who unlawfully divulge classified information about intelligence sources and methods during time of war -- or be jailed for contempt. If we fail to do so, we're accepting the premise that media "sources" are more valuable than the sources and methods used to protect the American people from those who seek to kill us. If that's the case, we might as well just fax all our secrets to our enemies.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.