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Hidden Scandal: DoD granted security clearance to Miller
'Hidden Scandal' in Miller Story, Charges Former CBS Newsman
by E&P and Bill Lynch
October 16,2005

NEW YORK Since the posting of The New York Times lengthy article on Judith Miller's involvement in the Plame scandal Saturday, much of the Web has been abuzz with the revelation that she had some sort of special classified status while embedded with troops in Iraq at one point.

The issue came to the fore after Miller, in recounting her grand jury testimony, wrote about how her former classified status figured in her discussions with I. Lewis Libby. She was even pressed by the prosecutor on this matter.

E&P columnist William E. Jackson Jr., had first raised this issue last year. On Sunday, former CBS national security correspondent Bill Lynch posted his views in a long letter about it at the Romenesko site at poynter.org. Here is the letter:

There is one enormous journalism scandal hidden in Judith Miller's Oct. 16th first person article about the (perhaps lesser) CIA leak scandal. And that is Ms. Miller's revelation that she was granted a DoD security clearance while embedded with the WMD search team in Iraq in 2003.

This is as close as one can get to government licensing of journalists and the New York Times (if it knew) should never have allowed her to become so compromised. It is all the more puzzling that a reporter who as a matter of principle would sacrifice 85 days of her freedom to protect a source would so willingly agree to be officially muzzled and thereby deny potentially valuable information to the readers whose right to be informed she claims to value so highly.

One must assume that Ms. Miller was required to sign a standard and legally binding agreement that she would never divulge classified information to which she became privy, without risk of criminal prosecution. And she apparently plans to adhere to the letter of that self-censorship deal; witness her dilemma at being unable to share classified information with her editors.

In an era where the Bush Administration seeks to conceal mountains of government activity under various levels of security classification, why would any self-respecting news organization or individual journalist agree to become part of such a system? Readers would be right to question whether a reporter is operating under a security clearance and, by definition, withholding critical information. Does a newspaper not have the obligation to disclose to its readers when a reporter is not only embedded with a military unit but also officially proscribed in what she may report without running afoul of espionage laws? Was that ever done in Ms. Miller's articles from Iraq?

It is not hard to imagine a defense lawyer being granted a security clearance to defend, say, an "enemy combatant." When the lawyer gets access to classified information in the case, he discovers it is full of false or exculpatory information. But, because he's signed the secrecy oath, there's not a damn thing he can do except whine on the courthouse steps that his client is innocent but he can't say why. A journalist should never be put in an equivalent position, but this is precisely what Ms. Miller has opened herself to.

There are other questions. Does she still have a clearance? Did she have it when talking to Scooter Libby? Is that why she never wrote the Wilson/Plame story?

I am a former White House and national security correspondent and have had plenty of access to classified information. When I divulged it, it was always with a common sense appraisal of the balance between any potential harm done and the public's right to know. If I had doubts, I would run it by officers whose judgement I trusted. In my experience, defense and intelligence officials routinely share secrets with reporters in the full expectation they will be reported. But if any official had ever offered me a security clearance, my instincts would have sent me running. I am gravely disappointed Ms. Miller did not do likewise.

It strikes me that Ms. Miller's situation is the flip side of the NYT's Jayson Blair coin. He and the Times were rightly disgraced for fabricating. In my opinion, Miller also violated her duty to report the truth by accepting a binding obligation to withhold key facts the government deems secret, even when that information might contradict the reportable "facts."

If Ms. Miller agreed to operate under a security clearance without the knowledge or approval of Times managers, she should be disciplined or even dismissed. If she had their approval, all involved should be ashamed.
E&P Staff (jdefoore@editorandpublisher.com)