Monday, May 22, 2006
We live in a pretty strange world. There are leaks of national security information, such as the existence of secret prisons in foreign countries, from the CIA and other places. While some people are hostile to the administration, it is clear that, whether you agree with the Administrator or not, this type of information needs to be kept secret to protect agreements with other governments or for other reasons. Yet, the Administration has been unable to stop the leaks.
There is, however, a clear way to plug these leaks. When a newspaper reports leaked national security information, the Justice Department could simply subpoena the reporter and ask who provided the information. If the reporter does not answer, he goes to jail until he talks. And that is it.
I believe that this arrangement would significantly reduce leaks. Reporters would not be so quick to provide assurances of confidentiality to sources of leaked information. While they might occasionally be willing to go to jail for a long time, I don't think they would want to all of the time. Leakers might also feel additional pressure not to disclose this information.
Why don't we pursue this strategy? I know that there may be Justice Department policies against this action, but they can be changed. I suppose there is a risk that the courts may attempt to find a special constitutional privilege for reporters, but they have not done so so far, and the Administration could guard against this by only going after serious leaks, such as national security information, rather than leaks that simply involve politics.
I recognize that leaks have their place. They sometimes reveal government wrongdoing and force the government to accept political responsibility for their actions. But they also cause serious harm, and allowing anonymous leakers of national security information to act with impunity, I believe, allows too many leaks. Forcing people to pay a price for the leak -- either the reporter or the leaker -- would result in a better balance of the factors contributing to the public good.