I’ve written before that Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange and the New York Times stand in the same First Amendment spot.
In this morning’s paper, the NYT published an article, based on Top Secret information leaks, that the U.S. military is planning ground incursions into Pakistan.
Glenn Greenwald delivers a brilliant lesson in why these disclosures are more “serious” than anything that Wikileaks has disclosed, and why both are nevertheless protected under the First Amendment. Here are just a few graphs, but they don’t fully convey the scholarship of the piece. This one will probably win the capstone Spotty™ for the year 2010.
Indeed, the NYT reporters several times acknowledge that public awareness of these operations could trigger serious harm ("inside Pakistan, [ ] the movement of American forces has been largely prohibited because of fears of provoking a backlash"). Note, too, that Mazzetti and Filkins [the NYT reporters] did not acquire these government secrets by just passively sitting around and having them delivered out of the blue. To the contrary: they interviewed multiple officials both in Washington and in Afghanistan, offered several of them anonymity to induce them to reveal secrets, and even provoked officials to provide detailed accounts of past secret actions in Pakistan, including CIA-directed attacks by Afghans inside that country. Indeed, Mazzetti told me this morning: "We've been working on this for a little while. . . . It's been slow going. The release of the AfPak review gave a timeliness to the story, but this has been in the works for several weeks."
In my view, the NYT article represents exactly the kind of secret information journalists ought to be revealing; it's a pure expression of why the First Amendment guarantees a free press. There are few things more damaging to basic democratic values than having the government conduct or escalate a secret war beyond public debate or even awareness. By exposing these classified plans, Mazzetti and Filkins did exactly what good journalists ought to do: inform the public about important actions taken or being considered by their government which the government is attempting to conceal.
Moreover, the Obama administration has a history of deceiving the public about secret wars. Recently revealed WikiLeaks cables demonstrated that it was the U.S. -- not Yemen -- which launched a December, 2009 air strike in that country which killed dozens of civilians; that was a covert war action about which the U.S. State Department actively misled the public, and was exposed only by WikiLeaks cables. Worse, it was The Nation's Jeremy Scahill who first reported back in 2009 that the CIA was directing ground operations in Pakistan using both Special Forces and Blackwater operatives: only to be smeared by the Obama State Department which deceitfully dismissed his report as "entirely false," only for recently released WikiLeaks cables to confirm that what Scahill reported was exactly true. These kinds of leaks are the only way for the public to learn about the secret wars the Obama administration is conducting and actively hiding from the public.
Greenwald also notes tellingly that Wikileaks never disclosed anything Top Secret, and nothing involving imminent troop movements.
Read it; that’s an order.