Judith Miller, Licensed Journalist

Security clearance presents conflict for 'Times' reporter

WASHINGTON, D.C.-Among the surprising revelations in New York Times reporter Judith Miller's own account Sunday of her activities in the Plame leak case was an admission that she had been given a security clearance while embedded with a military unit searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

”During the Iraq war, the Pentagon had given me clearance to see secret information as part of my assignment "embedded" with a special military unit hunting for unconventional weapons.”

Miller writes that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asked her to testify about her security status because he wanted to know whether she had discussed classified information with I. Lewis Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby has been under scrutiny in the outing of Valerie Plame, a CIA officer married to Joseph Wilson, a leading critic of the Bush administration's rationale for war in Iraq.

But it wasn't so much her conversations with Libby that got a rise out of Ivo Daadler. Writing on the TPM Café, a blog run by Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo, Daadler wondered about the dilemma of having reporters beholden not to tell what they know:

“After all, one of the most important obligations of a person receiving security clearances is not to reveal that information at any time, while one of the most important obligations of a reporter is precisely to reveal information the public has a need and right to know.
Can someone explain why this glaring conflict of interest is acceptable?

No stranger to security matters, Daalder is a fellow at Brookings and served on Clinton National Security Council staff.

The conflict he cites does appear to have played a part in Miller's coverage of the WMD issue. She wrote on Sunday:

”I told Mr. Fitzgerald that Mr. Libby might have thought I still had security clearance, given my special embedded status in Iraq. At the same time, I told the grand jury I thought that at our July 8 meeting I might have expressed frustration to Mr. Libby that I was not permitted to discuss with editors some of the more sensitive information about Iraq.”

Providing a journalist with a security clearance is unusual to begin with—former CBS correspondent Bill Lynch has likened it to the government's licensing journalists—but a security clearance within a WMD investigations unit dealing with highly sensitive matters is hard to believe.

If Miller couldn't tell her editors what she had learned as a reporter because it would be revealing classified information, then how could she perform her job as a reporter? Did Miller instead become a secret government agent, as it were, operating within The New York Times?

In any event, she may have come close to violating secrecy laws herself. If Fitzgerald seized on this and raised the possibility of such a prosecution, then he may have successfully flipped Miller into turning against others when she went before the grand jury. Such a deal might allow her to be considered a witness—which is what she is now being called—and not a potential target.

 
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