WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In the movie, "Jerry Maguire," Tom Cruise, playing a sports agent in the title role, euphorically shouts, "Show me the money!" Until this week, when the editors of the New York Times decided to reveal highly classified details about the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, that's exactly what the U.S. government has been doing to Al Qaeda. In an effort to prevent another Sept. 11, the CIA and Department of the Treasury -- with the help of several U.S. and European financial institutions -- have been secretly mapping terrorist networks through the use of financial data. It's not a secret anymore.
The paper that boasts about delivering "all the news that's fit to print" defends its right to divulge state secrets by arrogantly claiming that "the public has the right to know." In the wake of publishing accounts on how the National Security Agency monitors overseas communications with suspected terrorists and the means by which the CIA has been tracking terrorist finances, the NYT, other media outlets and "civil libertarians" describe those in government who leaked this classified information as "whistleblowers," "patriots" and "watchdogs against government abuse of our right to privacy." They're not. They are traitors.
In 1985 John Walker, a U.S. Navy Petty Officer, was convicted of compromising U.S. military codesecrets to the Soviets in exchange for cash -- and placing an untold number of Americans in our Armed Forces in extraordinary jeopardy. In 1994, CIA officer Aldrich Ames was jailed for selling the names of people spying for the United States to his Soviet handlers. His perfidy enabled the KGB to eliminate more than 130 agents working for our CIA and at least 10 were executed. In 2002, FBI agent Robert Hanssen was sentenced to life in prison for selling classified information about U.S. counter-intelligence operations to the KGB and its successor, the FSB, and irreparably damaging U.S. national security. These men were not "whistleblowers." All were avaricious, treasonous men, filled with hubris. Their actions directly harmed the country they were sworn to protect.
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.