Most of my reporting for NR does not require me to deal with classified data, but sometimes I bump into it. This happens most often when I write on missile defense. In the course of my research, I may ask a question whose answer is secret, such as a technical detail about a missile’s capabilities. When I hear the information is off-limits, I generally don’t inquire any further. It’s never essential to the story and I certainly don’t want to help North Korean rocket scientists.
Once I did press my source a little, as I worked on an article about Army Major Arthur D. Nicholson, who died on a secret mission in East Germany in 1985. One of my sources was very helpful, but he refused to discuss a few details. This was frustrating. It was twenty years after Nicholson’s death, the Cold War was over, and I was hoping to tell a full story about an American hero. I’m happy with how the article turned out, but I’ve always thought that it would have been a little better if my source had been more forthcoming. I was also convinced that the release of these details would have posed no risk to national security. Even so, my source didn’t budge. For what it’s worth, this particular source has since died, so the information I sought may be unobtainable.
My NRO podcast this week deals with these questions directly. Gabriel Schoenfeld is the author of Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law. It’s an essential book on the tension between a free press in a liberal democracy and the imperatives of national security. Gabe’s personal website is here.
Next week’s podcast: Tony Woodlief on faith, family, and fatherhood.