Reporting and Responsibility: Holland Tunnel Story in a Security Context
In our age of digital media and instantaneous sharing of information, a story such as the disruption of a plot to bomb the Holland Tunnel is sure to make headlines. When this happens before the completion of the important task of rounding up the suspected terrorists, it makes that mission much more challenging.
While ThreatsWatch was not in a position to break the story - we do believe that once it is public, media sources are free to report on and share in the discussion.
With that in mind, we have joined the discussion - and yet we must be concerned that the challenge before those defending us has once again been raised to a higher level.
This was the case with the leaking and then reporting of secret intelligence initiatives such as the NSA’s international communications monitoring and the Treasury Department/CIA program monitoring and investigating international bank records tracking and attacking terrorist financing.
In today’s now wide reporting on the Holland Tunnel threat, individuals involved but potentially unaware of the probe, from Lebanon to Jordan and elsewhere, surely are aware now and taking measures to ensure evasion.
Americans – and, more importantly, American editors and journalists with knowledge of such engagements in the War on Terror – must ask themselves fundamental questions when weighing whether to report or not:
Does the American (and international) public need to know this information?
Does public knowledge – and therefore the enemy’s knowledge – of such sensitive and/or secret engagements add to American security or adversely affect it?
Clearly, the threat to the Holland Tunnel was not imminent. What security gain was enhanced by public knowledge of its investigation at this point?
In fact, the investigation and counterterrorism operations thwarting it were and are still ongoing. Participants were and are still at large. Does the public reporting help or hinder that effort? Does it help or hinder the enemy, for that matter?
Surely most view the answers to those fundamental questions as both obvious and clear. Yet, those in the very powerful position of information disclosure either profoundly disagreed with or fundamentally disregarded those conclusions.
Those with first-knowledge of undisclosed operational information are in a unique position of responsibility. The decision made on public disclosure has a profound impact on security.
These decisions should be recognized as such and be treated with far more care and responsibility by those in such a position.