Thursday, February 10, 2011

I don't really have a quarrel with Horowitz's past

There's no question that, yes, he did some extraordinarily stupid things as an avatar of the Left, but my concern is more that I don't find him to have renounced the intellectual errors that led him into the Soviet sphere in the first place.

Nonetheless, it's worth considering one of Horowitz's recent assertions regarding the incident at Ramparts that has caused so much controversy:

    I should add that the crime in question was printing an article by a defector from the National Security Agency revealing classified information. This was the same crime committed by the editors of the New York Times when they published the classified documents known as the "Pentagon Papers."

Unfortunately, there is one core difference that makes this assertion untenable: the information published by Ramparts directly affected ongoing intelligence efforts against the Soviet Union.

    The real secret that [the source for the article] was revealing to us (a fact I did not even realize at the time) was that United States intelligence had cracked the codes of both the Soviet Union and Israel, and was able to read all their electronic communications. This information would have been among the most guarded intelligence secrets of all. By making public to both ally and enemy that the United States had broken their codes, our informant was, in fact, alerting the intelligence agencies of both countries to change them. Thus the information [the source] gave us was, or might have been (we had no way of knowing), a major blow to the United States’ national security in the midst of the Vietnam War.

The Pentagon Papers certainly dealt a blow -- not entirely deserved -- to America's efforts in Vietnam, but they didn't directly affect war efforts on the ground. (See Brennan's concurring opinion in New York Times Co. v. United States, arguing that government restraint of publication must rest on evidence showing "that publication must inevitably, directly, and immediately cause the occurrence of an event kindred to imperiling the safety of a transport already at sea.") This is substantially the same point made by James Robbins in a recent National Review article regarding a more recent NYT publication. In particular, Mr. Robbins appeals to a dictum in Near v. Minnesota, in which Chief Justice Hughes says that

    No one would question but that a government might prevent actual 'obstruction to its recruiting service or the publication of the sailing dates of transports or the number and location' of troops.

I don't think I could argue that Horowitz's actions by necessity rose to the level of criminal act, but there's certainly a case to be made (see Title 18 USC, Sec. 793(e)), depending on the construction of the phrase, "willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted," and whether the Ramparts staff had reason to believe that "the information ... was, or might have been ... a major blow to the United States’ national security." Even if such a case were to have been brought, I don't think it would have been successful, given the deference provided to the press by our courts. But it was no Pentagon Papers, and never could have been.
posted by Watchful Babbler / 11:46 PM