Squeeze the Gray Lady Till She Squeals

Today marks the first installment of The Human Events View, a daily editorial that will be posted each morning, five times a week. We are undertaking this new effort to give you a concrete and definitive viewpoint from Human Events, the first national conservative newspaper, serving America since 1944.

We begin with an editorial about the New York Times’ disclosure of the Treasury Department’s program monitoring international banking transactions. Over the weekend, Dean Baquet, editor of the Los Angeles Times, and Bill Keller executive editor of the New York Times, made their case for publishing the details of this secret government initiative.

Baquet and Keller write that newspaper editors face "excruciating choices" when covering the government’s anti-terrorism efforts. However, in defending their disclosure of the government’s secret program, Baquet and Keller fail to explain why their decision to publish is any different from revealing troop movements in a war zone. In our view, a special counsel should be appointed and the New York Times ought to be subpoenaed.

It is time for the U.S. Justice Department to squeeze the Old Gray Lady until she squeals.

New York Times Editor Bill Keller and some of his reporters need to be hauled before a grand jury and forced to reveal who told them about a secret U.S. government program designed to detect financial transactions among al Qaeda terrorists.

If they refuse to cooperate, they should go to jail.

If liberal friends of the Times complain, they should encounter a simple refrain: Remember Valerie Plame.

When columnist Robert Novak revealed that Plame, wife of former Ambassador Joe Wilson, had worked for the CIA and had a role in sending her husband on a secret CIA-sponsored trip to Niger that resulted in Wilson’s eventually writing a misleading anti-war op-ed for the New York Times, liberals screamed that a great crime had been committed.

Contempt of Court

In fact, it turned out, no law prevented government officials from revealing Mrs. Wilson’s place of employment to reporters.

Nonetheless, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft announced a criminal investigation. He recused himself and named bulldog prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald as special counsel.

Fitzgerald subpoenaed New York Times reporter Judith Miller to appear before a grand jury to discuss whether any administration official had mentioned Plame to her. When Miller refused to comply, a federal judge sentenced her to up to 18 months in jail for contempt of court.

The Supreme Court refused to hear her appeal and she went to prison.

After three months, Miller decided to testify after all. She named I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, as the person who told her about Plame (even though she had never written about Mrs. Wilson and in her notes incorrectly identified her as “Flame”). Fitzgerald indicted Libby—not for allegedly mentioning Plame’s identity, because no law forbade that, but for allegedly obstructing justice and making false statements to a grand jury.

This brings us back to the far graver matter of who leaked to the Times existence of a covert U.S. government program aimed at tracking the financial transactions of al Qaeda.

In a July 7, 2005, editorial that applauded Miller for her initial decision to go to jail rather than reveal who told her about Joe Wilson’s wife’s employment, the Times articulated what it called “Our Bottom Line” on publishing national security secrets. “Responsible journalists recognize that press freedoms are not absolute and must be exercised responsibly,” intoned the Times. “This newspaper will not, for example, print the details of American troop movements in advance of a battle, because publication would endanger lives and national security.”

Unpatriotic Act

But what the Times did in printing details of America’s ability to track movements of al Qaeda’s money is analogous to that: It let a war-time enemy know how the U.S. was maneuvering to defeat it.

It was a treacherously unpatriotic act.

Put the Times story in perspective: Al Qaeda attacked America, murdering thousands. Congress authorized war against al Qaeda. Our government came up with a covert means for tracking international financial transactions that could help pinpoint al Qaeda terrorists. Members of Congress were briefed. The program helped capture Hambali, the al Qaeda kingpin who masterminded the 2002 Bali resort bombing that killed 202 people, and a New York operative who helped launder $200,000 for al Qaeda.

Obviously, there were terrorists who did not know how this program was tracking them.

Then the New York Times exposed it.

But before they did, the administration tried to dissuade the paper. It even recruited the leading Democratic war critic, Rep. Jack Murtha (D.-Pa.), to plead with the Times not to publish the piece.

Yet, Keller turned his back on these pleadings.

No Abuses

Most damning was the letter Keller himself wrote responding to critics of his decision. He all but admitted the exposed secret program was legal, effective and had resulted in no known instances of abuse. “It is not our job to pass judgment on whether the program is legal or effective, but the story cites strong arguments from proponents that this is the case,” wrote Keller. “… [W]e cited considerable evidence that the program helps catch and prosecute financers of terror, and we have not identified any serious abuses of privacy thus far.”

So, why tip off al Qaeda?

It is highly likely the sources who leaked this story to the New York Times violated the law. Keller and his reporters are indispensable witnesses to that potential crime. This is not the sort of garden variety leak to the press that might call for prosecutorial discretion. It is a leak that damaged the U.S. cause in a congressionally authorized war against a murderous enemy.

The Plame case is a joke compared to this. Atty. Gen. Gonzales should name a special counsel. The counsel should subpoena relevant reporters and editors from the Times. They should be required to name names. The leakers should be prosecuted.