If there is one thing that Republican and Democratic administrations in Washington have in common it is a fear of secret (classified) information being leaked to the press. The case of the Justice Department’s seizing the telephone records of The Associated Press news cooperative is the latest such case.
It appears to be a broad attempt to intimidate the media and sources inside the government who believe in the public’s right to know the public’s business. And it is a reminder of two earlier cases: Watergate and the Pentagon Papers.
The famous Watergate scandal involved “Deep Throat,” a government official who secretly provided Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein with detailed information about the Nixon Administration’s bugging of and dirty tricks against its political enemies. The Pentagon Papers involved a top secret internal Defense Department report completed in 1969, and leaked to the New York Times in 1971.
The Post’s Watergate reporting led to Nixon’s resignation in disgrace. The Pentagon Papers showed that the United States had secretly expanded the war in Vietnam to Cambodia and Laos, and that four administrations, from Truman to Johnson, had misled the American public regarding their intentions and America’s growing commitment in the war. Publication of the Pentagon Papers was devastating to the government’s prestige, and played a significant role in building anti-war sentiment among the America people.
The current case involves records from April and May 2012 involving 20 phone lines assigned to AP reporters and editors. It apparently stems from a Justice Department investigation into who provided information contained in a May 7, 2012, AP story disclosing details of a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an al-Qaida plot to blow up an airplane en route to the United States.
The information apparently came from a confidential source inside the government. The use of confidential sources if a common practice among investigative and political reporters. It is one of the fundamental roles of the press to make such information public.
Clearly, some specific efforts to combat international terrorism cannot and should not be publicized. President Barrack Obama and other American officials, however, must work diligently to ensure that the U.S. government, in its attempts to protect the American people against a violent global jihad, does not promote a national security state more intent on secrecy than democracy.
As AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in his letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday: “ There can be no justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters.”