A Law Unenforced Is A Law Ignored -- Prosecute The New York Times And The Los Angeles Times!
As the dead are being counted from the terrorist bombings of the Mumbai (Bombay) train system, we are reminded that in the face of continuing terrorist threats, some prominent American newspapers believe that they have carte blanche to publish classified information concerning our government's anti-terrorism operations. Most egregious was the recent publication by the New York Times and the Los Angeles Tiems of national security secrets concerning the monitoring by the CIA of data obtained from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), which administers international money transfer transactions. Those newspapers chose to reveal details concerning a legal and successful intelligence operation, despite pleas to refrain from the Secretary of the Treasury, the White House Press Secretary and even Democrats Lee Hamilton (Co-chair of the 9/11 commission) and Congressman John Murtha (who is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Defense of the House Appropriations Committee). NY Times editor Bill Keller apparently believed that he could make a more accurate assessment of the potential damage to national security sitting in his office than could any of those individuals. His arrogance is astounding.
Previously, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times published classified information concerning National Security Agency monitoring for mobile phone communications between al-Qaeda agents abroad and their moles inside the United States.
A law unenforced is a law ignored. The disregard of our nation's security laws by leading newspapers must stop. I therefore call for the prosecution of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times for publishing classified information in violation of federal law.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in New York Times v. the United States (the Pentagon Papers case), held that there is a "heavy presumption" against the government's right to engage in pre-publication censorship of a news story. However, that presumption does not apply to post-publication prosecution if a law has been violated. Generally speaking, the First Amendment does not give a newspaper any greater license to disseminate classified information than a private citizen.
I do not know what the prospects are for successful legal prosecution of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. However, it is worth noting that the newspapers and civil libertarians often argue that legal actions on newspapers can have a "chilling effect." In this case, a chilling effect is exactly what is called for. Indeed, one might say that our lives depend on it.