It’s hard to imagine how you can have an effective intelligence service if members of that service leak to the press. The level of trust necessary for intelligence work would simply disappear in several directions, internal and external, simultaneously. At the same time what was and is reported in the press from those leaks is suspect, not only to due to the possible bias of the leaker but also obviously the possible bias of the reporter (and his editor, publisher, etc.). Nothing can be fully authenticated because the intelligence agency which has been compromised can and should not talk in its own defense. The agency is at a natural disadvantage because of the secret nature of its work. The rationale for this dance is that the public is informed- but is it? Do we really know anything, anything that we can fully believe anyway? I doubt it.
So where does that leave us? I was not surprised to read in today’s Washington Post of the firing of CIA agent Mary McCarthy for leaking to that paper and others. I was only surprised that it didn’t happen earlier. Meanwhile, the literary association of Ms. McCarthy’s name has a certain je ne sais quoi given that one of the people to whom she leaked her information, Dana Priest, has just won a Pulitzer Prize for her “revelations” about the CIA. How are we supposed to regard that? Tim Rutten has an article in the Los Angeles Times this morning about the dustup concerning this and other Pulitzers and some conservative bloggers who think the reporters who revealed classified information don’t deserve the prize. They deserve to go to jail for violating the Espionage Act instead.
I agree with Rutten to some extent that this may be overkill. (If anyone deserves prosecution, it is the leakers, who undoubtedly have employment contracts that forbid such disclosures.) But I certainly wouldn’t give these reporters a prize for their work, which seems to me more like a fancy version of taking dictation. They were, for reasons we of course do not know, chosen by these leakers to be trusted conduits of the leakers’ version of the truth. This deserves a prize? Not in my school yard. But what I do know? Most of the time I have been nominated for a prize (including one even better known than the Pulitzer), I lost. So you can just assume I’m a sorehead when I say that prizes of this nature are nothing more than self-serving political nonsense.