This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
The Department of Justice’s inspector general’s office has issued a scathing report documenting that while serving as attorney general, Alberto Gonzales was careless in handling classified documents, storing some in a safe outside his office rather than in the Sensitive Compartmented Storage Facility where they were supposed to be kept. The attorney general also kept one highly classified document in a briefcase in his own home office; he had forgotten the combination to a safe the government had installed there.
It seems that carelessness with classified materials is a bipartisan disease, having afflicted not only Mr. Gonzales but also President Clinton’s director of central intelligence, John Deutch, who was pardoned by Mr. Clinton in relation to allegations that he mishandled a classified laptop computer. In the case of Mr. Gonzales, the Justice Department’s national security division has decided to decline to prosecute. And wisely so.
For there is no evidence that Mr. Gonzales’s carelessness ever led to an actual leak of classified information to the enemy or to the public. One of the documents on which the inspector general’s report dwells were notes written by Mr. Gonzales of a briefing he gave to Congress about the National Security Agency’s program of wiretapping calls into America from phone numbers linked to Al Qaeda, and of listening to calls from America to those phone numbers.
Information about that program ended up in the hands of the New York Times, which ended up publishing it, we’d bet at the behest of some of those very same congressmen who were briefed by Mr. Gonzales. So if the Justice Department prosecuted Mr. Gonzales for being careless with the information and risking a hypothetical leak, his lawyers might ask why he is being targeted when he didn’t actually make any of the information public. The Times and its sources, meanwhile, have escaped prosecution. We aren’t calling for the Times to be prosecuted, or even for it to be subpoenaed about its sources for the story, whose publication the newspaper’s own ombudsman has concluded wasn’t worth the damage it did to national security. But to prosecute the former attorney general for creating a hypothetical risk of a leak while failing to prosecute anyone for an actual documented leak would have been a double standard unworthy of Justice.