Just as they report on the terrorists, it's the job of journalists to report on the how the war against terrorism is being fought. And when their spotlight is cast on intelligence activities, sound judgment and a thorough understanding of all the equities at play are critically important. Revelations of sources and methods--and an impulse to drag anything CIA does to the darkest corner of the room--can make it very difficult for us to do our vital work.
When our operations are exposed--legal, authorized operations overseen by Congress--it reduces the space and damages the tools we use to protect Americans. After the press reported how banking records on the international SWIFT network could be monitored, I read a claim that this leak--and I quote--"bears no resemblance to security breaches, like disclosure of troop locations, that would clearly compromise the immediate safety of specific individuals."
I disagree. In a war that largely depends on our success in collecting intelligence on the enemy, publishing information on our sources and methods can be just as damaging as revelations of troop or ship movements were in the past. Now, the compromise to safety can be both immediate and lasting, extending far beyond specific individuals.
Each revelation of our methods--in tracking terrorists, WMD, or other threats--allows our enemies to cover their tracks and change their practices. And it takes us valuable time to readjust in kind.
Some say there is no evidence that leaks of classified information have harmed national security. As CIA Director, I'm telling you there is, and they have. Let me give you just two examples:
I've told you how liaison relationships with our foreign partners are critical to the war effort. Several years before the 9/11 attacks, a press leak of liaison intelligence prompted one country's service to stop cooperating with us on counterterrorism for two years.
More recently, more than one foreign service has told us that, because of public disclosures, they had to withhold intelligence that they otherwise would have shared with us. That gap in information puts Americans at risk.
Those who are entrusted with America's secrets and break that trust by divulging those secrets are guilty of a crime. But those who seek such information and then choose to publish it are not without responsibilities.
I have a very deep respect for journalists and for their profession. Many of them--especially in the years since 9/11--have given their lives in the act of keeping our citizens informed. They are smart, dedicated, and courageous men and women. I count many of them as colleagues. We each have an important role to play in the defense of the Republic.
My point is, there are times when life-and-death issues are at stake when intelligence activities are the subject of press reports. Journalists, on their own, simply don't have all the facts needed to make the call on whether the information can be released without harm. I've heard some justify a release based on their view of the sensitivity of a story's content, with no understanding of the effect the release may have on the intelligence source at the heart of the story.
As I said, both journalists and intelligence officers have important roles to play in the defense of the Republic. A free press is critical to good government. But when the media claims an oversight role on our clandestine operations, it does so in an arena where we cannot clarify, explain, or defend our actions without doing further damage to our sources and methods.