Scientists 1, Department of the Army 0
In “Bush’s War on Journalists,” I discussed the Department of the Army’s operational security slideshow, in which soldiers were warned of the classes of people to be particularly on guard against: Al Qaeda members, narcotics traffickers, and journalists. Don’t you love that grouping? It’s rare that we come across an official document which is so revealing of the inner-mindset of the Army that Rumsfeld, Cambone, and Feith destroyed, and which is still lumbering along awaiting redemption.
It seems that the American Federation of Scientists came across the slides, too, and did me one better. They actually posted them to their website. AFS, for those of you who don’t know it, is one of the best monitors and debunkers of absurd government claims of secrecy, so the documents were a natural for them.
The United States Army was not able to take that lying down. It struck back, demanding that the scientists take the documents down from its website. The scientists were “not authorized” to use the slides, it wrote. The AFS webmaster, Steven Aftergood, responded, “Bring it on”:
I have considered your request that we remove Army publications from the Federation of American Scientists website. For the reasons below, I have decided not to comply.
He proceeded to review the applicable law and showed that the Army hasn’t a leg to stand on. He then posted a disclaimer. (Not that this generally matters in the age of Bush, when law is made up as needed.) What’s up next? Look for the Army to call the web police, or perhaps resort to self help. (They seem to have forgotten about the Posse Comitatus Act several years ago.)
Somewhat unexpectedly, Commentary has spoken out in defense of Aftergood. Gabriel Schoenfeld says the scientists have both law and reason on their side:
If the U.S. Army is serious about operational secrecy, it would do well to keep its secrets truly secret and not let them slip into the hands of the Federation of American Scientists. Trying to recall a secret once it is out only compounds whatever damage has been done. Even before the advent of the Internet, it was impossible to squeeze toothpaste back into the tube.
Unfortunately, the Bush Administration is already devoting enormous energy to squeezing toothpaste back into the tube.