On Wednesday morning the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and National Security held a hearing on the recent national security leaks. I have just finished watching a video of the hearing so you won’t have to (you can thank me later). Experts testifying included President George W. Bush’s homeland security advisor Kenneth Wainstein, American University Professor Stephen Vladeck, George Mason Professor Nathan Sales, and US Army (Ret.) Colonel Kenneth Allard.
As the witnesses pointed out, this is the third time in a year and a half that Congress has called for testimony on national security leaks. The sheer frequency of the hearings indicates that Congress should really try to figure out how to reform the Espionage Act, but I am not going to be holding my breath waiting for this to happen. Today’s hearing raised some interesting questions but unfortunately provided little guidance on how Congress might revise the Espionage Act.
Not surprisingly, Republican members of the Subcommittee largely used this hearing as an opportunity to rail against the lack of a special prosecutor to investigate the most recent national security leaks, while Democrats spent their time pointing out the most recent leaks were nothing new because leaks have been going on since the founding of this country.
The most interesting part of the hearing from my perspective was the Republicans’ attacks on the media for publishing national security secrets. As I had mentioned in one of my first posts, almost all of the hostile reaction to the most recent round of high-profile leaks was initially directed at the leakers themselves and not the media entities that published those leaks. Well, no more. Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas began the attacks on the media at the outset of the hearing when he said that newspapers publish national security secrets not because they are committed to transparency but rather because they want to increase circulation. Colonel Allard happily jumped on the media-bashing bandwagon, stating that the N.Y. Times “abuses its position” and that David Sanger’s reporting was “the equivalent of having a KGB operation running against the White House.” (Colonel Allard also had one of the best quotes from the hearing: “In wartime, I am as opposed to the free flow of information as I am to the free flow of sewage.” Yikes!)