“Face the Nation” | “Reliable Sources” | The New York Times | The Washington Post
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, on “Face the Nation,” discussed inquiries into national security leaks following two New York Times pieces. To the transcript!
BERNSTEIN: I think first you’ve got to be very careful about creating a witch hunt for sources, and a witch hunt in which you go after reporters, because now more than ever we need real reporting on this presidency, on national security, on all these areas. And the press is not the problem here. …
WOODWARD: Yes, and I completely agree with that. And by having an investigation, I mean, was there real harm to the national security? I think that question needs to be addressed at a policy level. And it’s very difficult, I know from doing stories like this, where you are dealing with sensitive government secrets, to modulate and be careful, at the same time hold the government accountable for what they’re doing.
So this is an area that needs to be handled with great delicacy and I’m not sure we have a political system that knows how to do anything with great delicacy.
BERNSTEIN: The record of the press, you know, is really quite good in protecting real genuine national security secrets which we often know about.
Speaking on “Reliable Sources,” Times reporter David Sanger reminded host Howard Kurtz that the beginning of his book about the Obama administration’s cyber wars, from which his story was adapted, begins with an account of how one initiative went bad.
Writing in The New York Times, Charlie Savage says investigations into leaks rarely lead anywhere: “These cases are very difficult to pursue,” a former assistant attorney general tells him. One hitch:
Many people are surprised to learn that there is no law against disclosing classified information, in and of itself. The classification system was established for the executive branch by presidential order, not by statute, to control access to information and how it must be handled. While officials who break those rules may be admonished or fired, the system covers far more information than it is a crime to leak.
Successful prosecutions rely on proving the releases could “harm the United States or help a foreign power,” Savage writes. And laying blame on specific leakers may be difficult, too:
Several of the recent disclosures, however, resulted from deeply reported projects. Such articles tend to have diffuse sourcing, making it hard to isolate who first disclosed the essence of what later becomes an article.
Woodward and Bernstein wrote a piece for The Washington Post this weekend about Nixon’s “five wars,” including one they said was against the press:
In response to suspected leaks to the press about Vietnam, Kissinger had ordered FBI wiretaps in 1969 on the telephones of 17 journalists and White House aides, without court approval. Many news stories based on the purported leaks questioned progress in the American war effort, further fueling the antiwar movement. In a tape from the Oval Office on Feb. 22, 1971, Nixon said, “In the short run, it would be so much easier, wouldn’t it, to run this war in a dictatorial way, kill all the reporters and carry on the war.”
Woodward and Bernstein speak tonight at a forum at the Watergate.