Spies versus Scribes

NEW YORK – The recent guilty plea by Donald Sachtleben, a former FBI bomb technician charged with leaking classified information, after government investigators identified him by secretly obtaining the phone logs of some Associated Press reporters, represents the latest chapter in the ongoing drama over United States security officials’ behavior.

A few days earlier, another chapter played out in a New York City television studio: spies and recipients of leaked information confronted each other onstage. It was a remarkable event, for an audience of 400 journalists. I was present.

The venue was a taping of the US interview program “Charlie Rose: The Week.” Stewart Baker, the National Security Agency’s former general counsel, defended the agency against criticism it has faced since former intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden leaked thousands of documents exposing the scope of its surveillance activities to the Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald. Joining Baker on the dais were two journalists of great courage, Janine Gibson, Editor-in-Chief of Guardian US, and Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian’s editor.

Baker’s talking points seemed aimed at establishing a “new normal,” in which the legality of official behavior is not to be questioned and journalists who do so are threatened. Indeed, he stressed multiple times that the spying revealed by Snowden’s disclosures was “lawful.”