Despite warnings that it is damaging national security, despite the prospect that it is inviting an unprecedented prosecution under the espionage statutes barring communication of national-defense information, the New York Times presses ahead in its campaign to place our country’s most highly classified military, counterterrorism, and diplomatic secrets on its front page. The string of extremely sensitive leaked information making it into the paper was extended recently when a memorandum by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, summarizing difficulties the U.S. faces with Iraq’s prime minister, appeared on page one.

But while avidly disclosing U.S. secrets, how does the Times report on intelligence operations directed against the United States by foreign powers?

Back in June, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst by the name of Ronald Montaperto was convicted on espionage charges. According to the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, Montaperto had held 60 meetings with Chinese military intelligence officers over two decades and provided them with information bearing “secret” and “top-secret” designations. Despite the gravity of the offense, Montaperto was sentenced to only three months in jail. This stands in striking contrast to other well-known cases. Jonathan Pollard, who passed information to Israel in the 1980’s, is serving out a life sentence. Last January, Larry Franklin, a Defense Department desk officer, was sentenced to twelve years in prison for mishandling classified documents and passing sensitive national-defense information to employees of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

There are many mysteries here. One of them is why Montaperto got only a slap on the wrist. One answer is that unlike Pollard and Franklin, he was not a nobody or an outsider but a creature of the establishment. In addition to his work for the DIA, he helped to produce a Council on Foreign Relations study on Chinese nuclear weapons and had many friends in the fraternity of China experts, both in and out of government. The federal judge in the case evidently reduced his sentence on the strength of numerous letters he received from Montaperto’s former colleagues. One of those letters came from the current deputy national-intelligence officer for East Asia, Lonnie Henley. Yesterday came word, from Bill Gertz of the Washington Times, that several months ago Henley received a formal reprimand for writing it.

Another even more intriguing mystery is why, even as the New York Times feels free to compromise one classified program after another, it has kept readers in the dark about the Montaperto matter and Henley’s intervention. The story is already beginning to age, Montaperto will be getting out of prison next month, but his name has yet to be even mentioned in our newspaper of record. One explanation for this silence, easy to demonstrate from their own behavior, is that the editors of the Times do not think the loss of governmental secretswith the single revealing exception of the leak of Valery Plame’s CIA affiliationis of any consequence to national security. It is thanks only to the dogged reporting of Bill Gertz, who has himself been known to publish highly sensitive governmental secrets, that the public is aware of these cases at all. 

To find out about A & O (admission and orientation) programs for a federal prisoner like Ronald N. Montaperto, inmate number 71342-083, click here.

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