Saturday, January 22, 2005

Talking treason

So the Washington Times' Tony Blankley thinks Seymour Hersh should be investigated for espionage for revealing that the Bush administration has been conducting secret military missions inside of Iran:
18 United States Code section 794, subsection (b) prohibits anyone "in time of war, with intent that the same shall be communicated to the enemy [from publishing] any information with respect to the movement, numbers, or disposition of any of the Armed Forces ... of the United States... or supposed plans or conduct of any ... military operations ... or any other information relating to the public defense, which might be useful to the enemy ... [this crime is punishable] by death or by imprisonment for any term of years or for life."

Subsection (a) of that statute prohibits anyone "with ... reason to believe that it is to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation, communicates ... to any representative, officer, agent, employee, subject, or citizen thereof, either directly or indirectly, any information relating to the national defense, shall be punished by death or by imprisonment for any term of years or for life."

I am not an expert on these federal code sections, but a common-sense reading of their language would suggest, at the least, that federal prosecutors should review the information disclosed by Mr. Hersh to determine whether or not his conduct falls within the proscribed conduct of the statute.

Well, if anyone should know about irresponsibly publishing information that can be used by the enemy in a way that directly harms national security interests, it's the Washington Times.

Recall, if you will, that it was the Washington Times that, back in the fall of 1998, published a little tidbit of information that let Osama bin Laden slip through our grasp.

I've mentioned this a couple of times before, most recently here. As I wrote then, this information appears in Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon's The Age of Sacred Terror:

According to Benjamin and Simon, the turning point when al-Qaeda became America's greatest enemy was not on Sept. 11, 2001, but rather on Aug. 20, 1998 -- the day President Clinton launched missile strikes against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda operations in Afghanistan and the Sudan, the latter being a pharmaceutical plant at al-Shifa that was being used to develop chemical weapons. First, there's this, on pp. 260-261:
For a brief moment, the operation appeared to be a qualified success. Al-Shifa was destroyed. Six terrorist camps were hit and about sixty people were killed, many of them Pakistani militants training for action in Kashmir. The Tomahawks missed bin Laden and the other senior al-Qaeda leaders by a couple of hours. This in itself was not a great surprise: no one involved has any illusions about the chances of hitting the target at exactly the right time. The White House recognized that the strike would not stop any attacks that were in the pipeline, but it might forestall the initiation of new operations as the organization's leaders went to ground.

The months that followed, however, were a nightmare. The press picked apart the administration's case for striking al-Shifa, and controversy erupted over whether Clinton was trying to "wag the dog," that is, distract the public from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The Washington Times -- the capital's unabashed right-wing newspaper, which consistently has the best sources in the intelligence world and the least compunction about leaking -- ran a story mentioning that bin Laden "keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones." Bin Laden stopped using the satellite phone instantly. The al-Qaeda leader was not eager to court the fate of Djokar Dudayev, the Chechen insurgent leader who was killed by a Russian air defense suppression missile that homed in on its target using his satellite phone signal. When bin Laden stopped using the phone and let his aides do the calling, the United States lost its best chance to find him.

Now, I'm not an expert on U.S. Code 18, section 794, either. But it certainly strike me that this behavior also fully constitutes disclosing in a way that it can be read by the enemy "supposed plans or conduct of any ... military operations ... or any other information relating to the public defense, which might be useful to the enemy." Call me old-fashioned, but it sounds like treason to me.

For that matter, where was Tony Blankley when it came to the outing of Valerie Plame as an overseas CIA operative by Robert Novak, acting as a conduit for yet-unknown figures inside the White House? Oh, that's right: back in September 2003, he was busy minimizing it, and predicting the scandal would produce a media feeding frenzy that would blow it completely beyond any proportion:
The second rule is to not underestimate how heinous the media and the public will come to regard small, seemingly insignificant, perfectly justifiable facts. Trivial actions or non-actions by good and decent friends and co-workers will take on the proportions of mortal sins. It will seem ludicrously disproportionate to the conduct in question. But it will happen that way. It always does. Read the memoirs. Talk to the old hands.

The search dogs will find not only the fox for which they are hunting, but other assorted game, which will be publicly presented before the dogs have gone to kennel for the night. In other words, the investigative process will stumble on other embarrassing facts and leak it to the press. Count on it.

Good thing we didn't count on it, because those dogs look like they're still sleeping on the porch. Certainly John Kerry never awoke them. But those noted liberal rags, the Washington Post and the New York Times, have hardly uttered a peep about the case since it first erupted.

Of course, that deeply nursed persecution complex that comes with the conservative brain package these days is part of Blankley's complaint against Sy Hersh, too:
The Washington political class is suffering from a bad case of creeping normalcy. We are getting ever more used to ever more egregious government leaks of military secrets.

Gosh, I wonder why.

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