Following a heated debate, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives sent a message to the media Thursday night: If somebody in the government discloses classified intelligence programs like the terrorist bank-records tracking program, don't report it.
By a vote of 227 to 183, the House passed a resolution supporting the Bush administration terrorist-tracking effort and effectively condemning sources and the media outlets, prominently the New York Times--though none were named in the resolution--who publicized the secret program.
Democrats had tried, but failed, to offer their own version that also supported anti-terrorism efforts but did not include what they suggested was a valentine to the administration in the form of unalloyed approval of the conduct of its anti-terrorism effort.
During the debate Kansas Republican Todd Tiahrt said that such leaks make the intelligence community appear incompetent. "Reporters should not be sacrosanct," said New York Republican Peter King. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said the resolution was "conceived in sin," sprung on the body without notice or discussion, and was a "baldfaced attempt to strangle criticism of the administration and gag and intimidate the press."
Rep. Ed Markey said it was an attempt to shoot the messenger. He also says that the resolution contains statements of support for the anti-terrorism program that can't be verified and that haven't been vetted or debated.
Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said that Congress had abdicated oversight responsibility and now wants to intimidate the press for filling the breach.
Media outlets have been pushing for a federal shield law similar to ones in most states because the government continues to restrict increasing amounts of information under the invocation of national security.
"I think [the resolution] was ridiculous and showed a profound lack of appreciation for the role an independent media plays in a democracy," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of The Reporters Committee For Freedom of the Press.
"The media has a constitutionally protected oversight role that has become even more important given that Congress appears to have given up its oversight role. They got to vent. Hopefully they will feel better for having bashed the New York Times."
At about the same time the resolution was being adopted, USA Today was preparing to publish a clarification of its story on another government program, this one tracking phone logs, with the paper saying it could not confirm that BellSouth or Verizon had supplied records to the government, an assertion it had earlier made.
The resolution that passed (H. Res. 895) reads as follows:
Whereas Federal statutes criminalize the unauthorized disclosure and publication of sensitive intelligence information, regardless of the source: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the House of Representatives--
(1) supports efforts to identify, track, and pursue suspected foreign terrorists and their financial supporters by tracking terrorist money flows and uncovering terrorist networks here and abroad, including through the use of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program;
(2) finds that the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program has been conducted in accordance with all applicable laws, regulations, and Executive Orders, that appropriate safeguards and reviews have been instituted to protect individual civil liberties, and that Congress has been appropriately informed and consulted for the duration of the Program and will continue its oversight of the Program;
(3) condemns the unauthorized disclosure of classified information by those persons responsible and expresses concern that the disclosure may endanger the lives of American citizens, including members of the Armed Forces, as well as individuals and organizations that support United States efforts; and
(4) expects the cooperation of all news media organizations in protecting the lives of Americans and the capability of the government to identify, disrupt, and capture terrorists by not disclosing classified intelligence programs such as the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program.