[This Op-Ed column appeared in the Dallas Morning News on July 8, 1987.] 

 

“Isn’t It Time for Laws to Protect Secrets?” 

 

Dwight D. Murphey

 

            In all the furor over the Iran-contra affair, Americans have hardly noticed that there has been a hemorrhage recently in the disclosure of our national secrets.

            In the name of an “open society,” extremely sensitive relationships between the government of the United States and the governments of a number of other countries have been laid bare.

            Military and diplomatic secrets have been treated as an open book.

            This hemorrhage has been justified by a naïve world view that dominates public discourse today and that is fostered by what is still a McGovernite liberal mentality.

            Among other things, this world view holds to the premises that no covert activity should be allowed to remain covert; that we and the Free World would be better off if the United States held back from all covert activity; and (as a carryover from both the New Left and Watergate years) that the U.S. government, under any president, is to be perceived as in effect an occupying power, an alien force to be treated adversarially.

            The resulting disclosures of our national secrets have by no means been limited to the Iran-contra affair.  Here briefly are some of the recent disclosures, most of which openly flout the secret nature of what is being exposed:

·        On Dec. 1, 1986, an Associated Press story reported that the administration “is secretly implementing a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s defenses against foreign spies.”

·        On Dec. 16, newspapers around the country ran a story by the Los Angeles Times/Washington Post Service revealing a U.S. intelligence relationship with both Iraq and Iran.

·         On Feb. 1 this year, a New York Times News Service story reported that “in a highly secret operation, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has used an abandoned air base in Zaire to airlift arms to Angolan guerrillas.”

·        On Feb. 8-10, the Knight-Ridder News Service ran a flamboyant expose headlined “The Pentagon’s hidden money.”  The series said that “under the cloak of secrecy” billions are being spent on a wide variety of futuristic projects that include the development of robots, use of dolphins, orchestration of nuclear warfare by satellites and continued development of “the supersecret Stealth bomber now in production.”  So that its readers would know just how diligent the reporters had been in ferreting out these secrets, the series said that “Knight-Ridder News Service reviewed more than 10,000 pages of Defense Department budget documents.”

·        On Feb. 12, an article by the Washington bureau of the Wichita Eagle-Beacon reported testimony by a “native of El Salvador” that he had been hired by the FBI to infiltrate groups opposing an anti-Communist policy in Central America.

·        On Feb. 21, another Eagle-Beacon article, relying on an anonymous source, told of Egyptian-American cooperation against Moammar Gadhafi in 1985.

·        On Feb. 22, the New York Times quoted “unidentified sources” as saying that the United States intended Gadhafi to be killed in the April 1986 bombing of Libya.

·        In its issue of March 23, Newsweek said, “President Reagan… recently signed another secret ‘finding’… to authorize a multimillion dollar CIA operation against communist insurgents in the Philippines.”

            The Virginia Law Review published a lengthy scholarly note in June 1985 titled “Plugging the leak: the case for a legislative resolution of the conflict between the demands of secrecy and the need for an open government.”

            Most Americans, I should think, will be surprised by the authors’ observation that “no general criminal statute prohibits a government employee from disclosing classified information.”

            The note adds that “a criminal prosecution for disclosing government secrets has been initiated only once” and that “a criminal prosecution for publishing government secrets has never been initiated.”

            In view of the many abuses that have occurred—amounting in fact to an extensive campaign against U.S. initiatives—and the legal void that exists, it is apparent that there is an urgent need for appropriate legislation.

            Unless most Americans agree with the suppositions underlying contemporary liberalism and want to see their own government continued to be treated as the enemy, such legislation should, in my opinion, be a high priority both for the administration and for the more level-headed members of Congress.