June 3, 2013

In light of revelations that the Obama IRS has been targeting conservative groups, it is understandable that many on the right wonder if Fox News came in for special scrutiny by the Obama Justice Department in the recent leak investigation. But let’s not forget that the real scandal here is the serial disclosures of highly classified information by senior Obama officials — leaks that have done immense damage to our national security.

Instead of being outraged that Attorney General Eric Holder subpoenaed the phone and e-mail records of Fox News reporter James Rosen, we should be demanding to know if Holder has been equally aggressive in going after the records of reporters from the New York Times, The Post and other news outlets — records that could lead directly to members of the president’s inner circle.

Consider:

On June 1, 2012, the New York Times revealed that President Obama personally ordered a cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program using a computer virus called Stuxnet. The article exposed the U.S. role in the attacks, the top-secret code name for the program (“Olympic Games”) and the involvement of Israel, a U.S. ally. The Times quoted one of the president’s intelligence briefers and cited “officials in the room” as its source. The universe of people “in the room” when the president was briefed on a covert operation of this nature is tiny. Has Holder subpoenaed the phone and e-mail records of the Times reporters to find out who in Obama’s inner circle shared these secrets?

On June 19, 2012, The Post revealed that, in addition to Stuxnet, the “United States and Israel jointly developed a sophisticated computer virus nicknamed Flame that collected intelligence in preparation for cyber-sabotage aimed at slowing Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon.” And on June 13, 2012, a Post article revealed the existence of a network of special-operation air bases in Africa used to spy on al-Qaeda. The article exposed the code name of the program and the location of one of the bases in Burkina Faso, revealing to terrorists that country’s secret cooperation with us in the fight against al-Qaeda. Have records been subpoenaed to find out who shared this damaging information with The Post?

On March 28, 2012, Foreign Policy magazine exposed that Israel had been granted access to air bases on Iran’s northern border that could be used in a raid on Iran’s nuclear program. ABC News reported that Israelis believed the Obama administration was “leaking information to pressure Israel not to bomb Iran.” Has Holder subpoenaed the records of the Foreign Policy reporter involved to find out who shared these secrets with him?

On June 21, 2012, the New York Times exposed the existence of secret CIA teams who were operating in Turkey to help direct aid to anti-Assad rebels. Then, on Aug. 1, 2012, CNN and Reuters exposed the existence of a covert-action “finding” authorizing U.S. support for elements of the Syrian resistance. Have journalists’ records been subpoenaed to find out who revealed this highly classified information?

The question we should be asking is not why Holder investigated the leak to Fox News but whether he has been equally aggressive in pursuing other damaging leaks to friendly news organizations — including leaks from the upper echelons of the administration designed to make Obama look strong in an election year.

The leak to Rosen that North Korea was preparing a nuclear test was incredibly damaging. It alerted the North Korean regime that we had penetrated its inner circle. Conservative national-security lawyers I spoke with said that naming Rosen a “co-conspirator” was a clumsy mistake and was not necessary to obtain a search warrant. But the records of Rosen’s interactions with the leaker were essential to the investigation.

Some have complained that subpoenaing reporters’ records could have a “chilling effect” on communications between government officials and the press. If those communications involve classified information, good. Conversations between leaker and journalist are not sacrosanct, like those between priest and penitent, or privileged, like those between attorney and client. If leakers are worried that their e-mails and phone calls with reporters will be uncovered, they will be less likely to leak. We want to put a chill on those kinds of communications. They are illegal.

I know journalists like to think of themselves as members of the “Fourth Estate,” but that is not an actual, official position. Reporters do not have any more right to receive, possess or disseminate highly classified information than anyone else — and if they do, their records are subject to subpoena just like anyone else’s.

The officials who shared this information broke the law, put lives at risk and violated their oath to protect our country and its secrets. They should be found and prosecuted — even if they reside in the West Wing of the White House.

If that means getting a subpoena to find evidence of their communications with reporters, so be it — just so long as the Justice Department is not singling out news outlets critical of the president while giving a pass to friendly ones that publish leaks making the president look good.

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