Our Guest Blogger is Billy Corriher, Associate Director of Research for Legal Progress.House Republicans want the government to use criminal statutes to prosecute reporters who publish sensitive national security information. In a hearing on Wednesday, the leadership of a House Judiciary Sub-Committee said such actions are needed after a series of New York Times stories included information leaked from government sources. In his testimony, Army Col. Ken Allard accused reporter David Sanger of “systematically penetrating the Obama White House as effectively as any foreign agent” and putting Americans at risk by reporting on the government’s cyber-attacks on Iran.
Journalists from the Times have published important stories with information on the assassination of Osama bin Laden and President Obama’s “kill list” of suspected terrorists. The story of the “kill list,” in particular, is vital information for anyone concerned about the government potentially abusing civil liberties in the “War on Terror.” The administration has placed at least one American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, on the list and killed him in a drone strike. If the Times had not acted, we would know very little about how the “kill list” is composed.
But Republicans charge that publishing leaked national security information is endangering the American public. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) called for subpoenaing journalists and demanding they expose their sources. “You either answer the question or you’re going to be held in contempt and go to jail, which is what I thought all reporters aspire to do anyway. I thought that was the crown jewel of the reporter’s resume, to actually go to jail protecting a source.”
Another Republican suggested the media’s watchdog role is unnecessary because whistleblower laws allow citizens to report wrongdoing to the government. In other words, we don’t need to know anything about our government’s national security actions, because we can trust the government to police itself.
Some even suggested the Obama administration has leaked information for political gain. The chair of the subcommittee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), said the administration could be “weakening our national security and endangering American lives.” Like the “Fast and Furious” investigation, this could end up being another Republican witch hunt for information that could embarrass the Obama administration.