Most people know by now that the United States planned to launch a cyberattack on Russia over the recent weekend. The problem is, most people knew about that attack before it was supposed to happen…including Russia herself.
How did everyone know about it? It was leaked to the media and the media spilled it.
American Journalism…and in fact, most journalism…is about one-upmanship. Whoever breaks the story first is the one who gets the glory. The rest are followers, copiers, simply feeding off the original. So there is tremendous pressure in the industry to be the first to the line.
In the rush to publish, however, there can be casualties. This time, it was the U.S. strategic position.
There is no question that a cyberattack on Russia would have had enormous consequences. The planned attack was one of the major reasons The DEFCON Warning System raised the alert level. Russia made it clear how they intended to respond to such an attack.
Maybe someone leaked the information to hopefully prevent the U.S. from going through with it. Maybe they leaked the information to give Russia a head’s up. Who knows?
The question is: Should the media have run the story?
There is no question that U.S. security was compromised severely by the leak. The element of surprise was lost. Any setback Russia would have faced by such an attack is now defended against. Russia is on the alert for a cyberattack now (more so than they were before), and any attack even successful would inflict far less damage than it would have had the news not announced the plan in the first place.
At what point does the media bear responsibility for compromising U.S. security?
Legally, never. U.S. Courts have long sided with the Press and their freedom to report on almost anything. It would take an entire civics class to go into how deeply ingrained into American culture this right is, and certainly beyond the scope of this article to get in to.
Morally, patriotically, that is another question. The Press held back on the Cuban Missile Crisis until John Kennedy had the chance to appear before the public and explain what was happening. They even kept a lid on the Manhattan Project…mostly anyway. Have things changed so much in so short of a time? If running a story puts the United States at a militarily disadvantage, should they run it anyway? This time, the answer was “Yes.”
Today, if the media found out that the U.S. was going to storm Crimea and free it from the Russian occupation, would they print that? Should they?
At what point does loyalty to your country outweigh the desire to be the first to publish?
Thomas Lonely Wolf is the Director of the DEFCON Warning System, an analytical organization that focuses on nuclear threats against the US and offers an alert code to the public based on current events.