Gabriel Schoenfeld, who was the chess columnist of the New York Sun when I was its managing editor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and the author of the fine new book Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law.
He spoke to FutureOfCapitalism.com this morning by phone about the 92,000 classified documents about the allied war effort in Afghanistan that have just been published by the Wikileaks Web site and three major news organizations.
I asked if any crimes had been committed. Mr. Schoenfeld replied, "Clearly, there was a leaker somewhere in the government. He clearly violated a whole bunch of laws." He said it is possible that the documents also make public other sorts of information, such as signal intelligence or the identities of American agents, whose publication falls within categories that are expressly outlawed.
I asked if Wikileaks's "offshore" status puts them outside the reach of American law. "As a practical matter, we're not going to be able to go after them," Mr. Schoenfeld said, speculating that even a covert CIA operation to disable the group's servers would face a difficult time succeeding.
I asked what he made of the New York Times's decision to publish the documents, and he said that compared to some of the other things the paper has done in the past, this action wasn't as bad, because the paper was "just republishing" documents already up on another Web site, and that it therefore wasn't doing a great deal of additional harm. He said he thought the Obama administration's decision to ask the Times to ask Wikileaks to withhold some information was "bizarre" and "strange," because it put the administration in "almost a position of weakness."
Even so, he said, this document dump is "much more damaging on its face than the Pentagon Papers," because the Pentagon Papers dealt mainly with historical events leading up to the Vietnam War, while the Wikileaks documents involve what is happening now, in the middle of the war.
I said I found it somewhat ironical that a liberal Democratic administration was being afflicted by these sorts of leaks and complaining about them, since we usually think of these things in terms of a liberal press publishing leaks about a Republican war effort. He said that the Obama administration has been taking a pretty hard line in going after leakers and that there is some evidence that the president himself is "particularly irked" by leaks.