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The right wing echo chamber is obviously anxious to divert public attention from the death toll in Iraq, high gas prices, falling wages, the split within their party on immigration, the continuing mess in homeland security, the explosion of federal budget deficits and the widespread use of public office for personal gain by a growing army of wrongdoers from within their ranks. For months they have been desperate for an issue that would capture the attention of voters who supported them in happier times but who now view them and their movement as both hypocritical and opportunistic=

The latest attempt to find such an issue is the orchestrated attack on the New York Times for publishing a report on government surveillance of personal banking records. They could hardly have picked a topic that provides a clearer contrast between their commitment to the nation’s security when it is politically convenient and their disregard when it is not.

My assessment of the Times report is that the information should not have been published. It was an editorial decision in which legitimate concerns about personal privacy had to be weighed against possible damage to our efforts to limit the ability of terrorist organizations to move financial assets. Those are both important factors, and in most instances, I think the Times has chosen wisely in the past.

But the selective outrage of the television commentators, radio talk show hosts, columnists and bloggers of the right toward the Times only brings into sharper relief the phoniness of their professed concerns. True patriots would profess equal outrage regardless of who breached national security.

The “Times” is the biggest leaker of sensitive government secrets, but it is not the New York Times. It isn’t even close. It is the oracle of the American right, the Washington Times, that holds that title. Over the course of the past two decades, the Washington Times and its Pentagon reporter, Bill Gertz, have regularly told the world some of the nation’s most highly guarded and sensitive secrets.

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported several years ago on the testimony of a senior official of the National Security Agency before the House Intelligence Committee. The committee was told that media leaking is:

A problem of monumental proportions and has caused . . . grave damage . . . the loss of SIGINT access to information of extreme importance to U.S. national security.

According to Ignatius, National Security Agency data identified 40 instances in 1998 and 34 instances in the first six months of 1999 when its signals intelligence capabilities were disclosed for the first time in the media. The NSA told Ignatius that Gertz personally accounted for many of these leaks. The most famous security breach by the Washington Times did not involve Gertz but another reporter. It was the Aug. 21, 1998, disclosure that the U.S. was monitoring Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone conversations. Shortly thereafter bin Laden stopped using the phone, and the quality of U.S. intelligence on al Qaeda took a precipitous nosedive.

Gertz defended himself and the Washington Times in a 2001 interview on National Public Radio:

From our standpoint as a news organization, if information comes our way and we were to withhold it, there is always the possibility that that information would come out in another news organization. So that’s what we take into account when we look at these issues�?? We report the news, and if that contains classified information, that’s part of my job. Most of the information I get doesn’t come with a stamp on it that says secret or top secret so it would be very hard to tell what’s classified today. In fact the maxim is: if you classify everything, then nothing is classified.

None of these leaks has sparked an outcry from the pseudo patriots who are now so exercised over the conduct of their philosophical adversaries at the New York Times. Clearly the recent New York Times disclosures were far less damaging than any one of a long list of revelations published by the Washington Times. Terrorists have never relied heavily on the formal banking system, and the effectiveness of the program reported by the New York Times has clearly reduced that reliance even further. Nearly all recent terrorist plots, including those in London and Toronto, have been organized and financed locally.

Right wing critics of the New York Times were also missing in action during the outrageous betrayal of the U.S. and its intelligence capabilities by Iraq’s former deputy prime minister Ahmad Chalabi — a betrayal that was fostered by the Pentagon darlings of the right, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith. After being told by a member of the Wolfowitz-Feith team that the U.S. had broken the Iranian diplomatic code, Chalabi returned to Baghdad and reported that fact to the Iranians. No one at the Pentagon was ever held responsible, and no one that I know of involved in the jihad against the New York Times has ever asked why.

There is also apparently no one in this group who has demanded accountability for the deliberate disclosure by the White House of an undercover CIA agent — destroying not only her career but putting at risk human assets she may have interacted with in various countries around the world.

Whether this gang of opinion molders deserves the mantel of patriotism that they are so fond of displaying can be easily determined by their level of desire to rout all leakers of sensitive government secrets, not just the ones who happen at the moment to be between them and continued political power. Patriots — even weak ones — put their country first and their partisan interests second.

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Scott Lilly

Senior Fellow