I don’t necessarily disagree with the Washington Post Editorial Board’s position on the inappropriateness of calling James Rosen a potential co-conspirator in the unlawful disclosure of classified information, but I don’t appreciate them mischaracterizing the DOJ’s position. Contrary to the Post‘s assertions, the DOJ did not tell the judge that Rosen merely asked for information and used flattery to obtain it. They pointed out that Rosen concocted a plan to make covert communications possible, including the use pseudonyms, pseudonymous email accounts, and secret symbols.
Within the insular Beltway, it’s considered preposterous that James Rosen might have been spying against his own government, especially on behalf of North Korea. And I think it is probably preposterous. I don’t think Rosen’s lame and ineffectual attempts at spy-craft indicate any sophisticated training, nor do I think they are especially unusual methods for reporters who work on national security.
However, we should at least take this case into the realm of the hypothetical. Since intelligence agencies prefer to use reporters as official cover in many cases, and since reporters who work on national security are prime recruitment opportunities, our counterespionage people have to take into account the possibility that a leak is not just a leak. When they uncover a reporter engaging in spy-craft in order to manipulate a source and to conceal their tracks, they need to investigate.
Just because a reporter seems like a known quantity, if the damage from the leak is significant enough and the reporting is irresponsible enough, the FBI pretty much has to take a look at it.
So, basically, the Washington Post just made me less likely to agree with them because they didn’t seem to understand what the actual stakes were. Just because James Rosen isn’t a North Korean intelligence asset (or the dupe of one) doesn’t mean that he isn’t stupid enough to do just as much damage as if he were.