President Trump’s delegation of the power to declassify documents related to the origins of the Russian “collusion” story to Attorney General Barr has got the New York Times worried. What if, asked reporters Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger, blundering Mr Barr endangers the CIA’s secret sources of information by revealing their identities?
Though the ultimate power to declassify documents rests with the president, Mr. Trump’s delegation of that power to Mr. Barr effectively stripped [Dan] Coats and the C.I.A. of control of their secrets. The move could endanger the agencies’ ability to keep the identities of their sources secret, former intelligence officials said.
Well, sure. You can understand why that might be a concern. But could this be the same New York Times which, only the day before, was equally worried about the threat to First Amendment freedoms posed by the indictment of Julian Assange? And hadn’t Mr Assange, with the help of Bradley (as he then was) Manning done precisely what they claimed to be afraid Mr Barr would do in publishing the names of secret intelligence sources? “For the purposes of press freedoms, what matters is not who counts as a journalist,” wrote reporter Charlie Savage,
but whether journalistic activities — whether performed by a “journalist” or anyone else — can be crimes in America. The Trump administration’s move could establish a precedent used to criminalize future acts of national-security journalism, said Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “The charges rely almost entirely on conduct that investigative journalists engage in every day,” he said. “The indictment should be understood as a frontal attack on press freedom.”
Indeed, so strongly did the Times feel about the matter that it didn’t just rely on Mr Savage and his alter ego, Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, to express its alarm but actually ran an editorial in its own voice claiming that “Julian Assange’s Indictment Aims at the Heart of the First Amendment.”
Why, you might almost suppose that the paper was claiming that the job of fingering the nation’s intelligence sources should be reserved for itself and others engaged in “journalistic activities” while being kept away from the President and the Attorney General of the United States. Of course it would be naive of me not to note that, in The New York Times’s view, there are secrets and there are secrets, and the secrets they are worried Mr Barr might declassify are not really the identities of American intelligence sources but those of the American intelligence officials with whom they themselves colluded as part of an effort to sell the country on the bogus narrative of Mr Trump’s collusion with Russia. Hence the equally bogus concern with Mr Trump’s alleged attempt to politicize intelligence services that have now been revealed as already politicized by his predecessor, if not even earlier.
Yet over and above the need to protect their Russiagate “narrative,” already tottering if not completely discredited in the eyes of all but the president’s most determined enemies, there is also the need to protect the paper’s own business model, which is so largely based on its being the preferred venue for leaked secrets and contraband information whose value to them depends on its remaining secret until they publish it exclusively. Since its publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, the Times has enjoyed a happy exemption from the country’s espionage laws, from which it has profited greatly and which it would now extend even to Mr Assange, whom it has been glad to use as a source in the past.
Well you can hardly blame it, I guess, or not more than any other crony capitalist, for wanting to preserve its quasi-monopoly on monetizing pilfered information. But we now know that when the paper’s august editorial tribunal pronounces, as it so often has pronounced, either explicitly or by implication in recent weeks and months, that no one is above the law, it does so with a mental reservation excepting itself and other practitioners of “journalistic activities.” It’s yet another indication that such practitioners, especially those who are not a million miles distant from Eighth Avenue, now aspire to run the country in place of its elected officials.