"For people to leak that program and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America."
So said President Bush of The New York Times' revelation of a secret U.S. program to monitor the international cash transfers of suspected terrorists. "Disgraceful," added an angry president.
Vice President Cheney assailed news organizations that "take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programs, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people."
Of the Times' decision to expose the secret program, House Speaker Dennis Hastert says: "This is not news. This is something that has been classified; something that is top secret."
Treasury Secretary John Snow wrote Times editor Bill Keller, "In choosing to expose this program despite repeated pleas from high-level officials on both sides of the aisle ... the Times undermined a highly successful counter-terrorist program and alerted terrorists to the methods and sources used to track their money trails."
The U.S. government has thus declared that what the Times did was reprehensible, and rendered aid and comfort to the enemy.
But if Bush believes that, why hasn't his Justice Department been directed to investigate these crimes against the Espionage Act and acts of treason in a time of war?
Rhetoric aside, the core issue here is this:
Does Bush believe the Times committed a crime in exposing the secret financial tracking program and the secret National Security Agency program to intercept U.S. phone calls of suspected terrorists -- for which the Times won a Pulitzer? If he does, why has he not acted?
Why has he not ordered Justice to dig out the disloyal leakers and prosecute their media collaborators, who refused White House requests not to compromise these vital programs? If Bush believes what he is saying, why does he not do his duty as the chief law enforcement officer of the United States?
Asked if the White House would retaliate against the Times, Press Secretary Tony Snow said, "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."
Nice statement, but the Times' response is: We did reflect, Tony, and we decided to publish. An unstated corollary is: And what are you going to do about it?
The answer so far is that the Bushites are going to do nothing other than fulminate and pound the Post and Times. Bush has every right to do so, and the tactic is effective, for even opponents of the war do not believe journalists are above the law and enjoy special rights to expose security secrets to sabotage any war effort they no longer agree with.