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Ralph Peters is a regular columnist with the New York Post. Register here for access to the Post's Online Edition.



PETERS Secrets For Sale - Cheap
by Ralph Peters [author, novelist] 9/29/06

After more than two decades in the intelligence world, I know a few secrets. Some would merit brief, trumped-up headlines. But keeping those secrets is a matter of honor.

I don't keep secrets from the American people. I keep secrets for the American people. I took an oath not to divulge classified information. In return, I was trusted. And I never broke my word.
Ralph Peters - Contributor
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications. [go to Peters Index]

That means that I and all those like me who keep the faith don't fit in Washington, D.C., where leaking our nation's secrets is now a competitive sport - for both Democrats and Republicans.

The climate of leaks-without-penalties must end. But it probably won't. Why? Because senior figures in both parties see political advantages in well-timed leaks. They're willing to betray our nation for a brief partisan edge.

I've already used two out-of-date words that mark me as a patsy in D.C.: "honor" and "betray."

What happened to honor? Among our elected and appointed officials? A sense of honor still prevails within our military and among hundreds of thousands of government employees. Honor still prevails in much of our community life. Many Americans beyond the Beltway maintain a strong sense of personal and professional honor.

But honor's dead in Washington. And at "leading" universities (where patriotism, too, is beneath contempt). And in the media. Honor isn't hip. It's as pathetic as a powder-blue, polyester leisure suit.

To journalists and members of Congress, the concept of honor is so alien it's incomprehensible. If you can grab a headline, no matter the cost to your country, tell our secrets - and win an award for your "courage."

If you can bump up your poll numbers before the election, spill the beans. If you can stick it to the other party, by all means tell the terrorists what our senior intelligence officers think. Expose our security programs. Exaggerate our military problems. If we're short on bullets, tell the bad guys.

Honor's for the chumps, the losers, the average voter who "doesn't have a clue." In other words, for people like you and me.

Of course, reporters and political hacks can't just stroll into a secure vault and walk out with classified documents (well, except for a certain former national security adviser . . . ). They need accomplices. So they've created a culture of leaks in which bureaucrats and even military officers convince themselves it's OK to tip our nation's secrets - your secrets - to the media.

What can be done? It's simple: Enforce the law.

Leaking classified information is a crime punishable with prison time. The statutes are on the books, folks. Those who leak classified information and those who publicize it should go to jail.

This isn't a matter of creating a police state, for God's sake. We're at war. In war (and in peace, as well), we have secrets to keep. When we fail to keep those secrets, soldiers die, our enemies are encouraged, our allies grow reluctant to share intelligence with us, and our own agencies worry about the danger of sharing information from their top sources. And you, the American people, are betrayed.

"Betrayal" is the other un-cool word I used up above. But it's the right word. Whether a senator or a low-level staffer in a government department, the man or woman who intentionally compromises classified information has betrayed you, your family and your country.

The latest example was a selective leak from a National Intelligence Estimate - a high-level document that reports not only a consensus view, but also dissenting opinions (I know - I read plenty of 'em in the past). According to the media's version of whatever was leaked, we're less secure now than before Iraq was invaded. It was a cynical set-up just over a month before national elections: In order to challenge the allegations, the president had to declassify a very sensitive document.

The leak wasn't about some phony "right to know." It was a political stunt performed for political gain. And now our enemies know what our intelligence community thinks. Gee, thanks. We don't need to know what intelligence documents say. What matters is what our leaders do or fail to do.

What will it take to inspire a nonpartisan crackdown on those who betray our secrets, who selfishly expose our country to mortal danger?

A punk who robs a convenience store goes to jail, yet an official who passes sensitive intelligence to the press or to the political party he or she favors is rarely pursued at the upper levels of government.

Why? Same answer as above. Your politicians like the culture of leaks. They complain about it, fingers crossed way down in their deep pockets. But they do nothing. Washington's a club - and you're not in it, brothers and sisters.

This shouldn't be a Democratic or Republican issue. It's an American issue. Keeping our country safe is more important than Sen. Sweetspot's re-election campaign or a Pulitzer Prize for another self-adoring, America-loathing journalist.

Put 'em in the slammer. Where these criminals belong. Enforce our laws. And maybe - just maybe - folks in Washington will start obeying those laws again.

There's one more reason why I keep old secrets and actively avoid exposure to new ones now that I'm out of the system. In this great, free country, I can figure out anything I need to know from open sources. I don't have to dishonor myself or the United States of America.

And if honor's a joke to those in power, I'm proud to be the butt of it. CRO

Ralph Peters' latest book is Never Quit The Fight.

This piece first appeared in the New York Post
copyright 2006 - NY Post

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