There Are Leaks. And Then There Are Leaks.





AN intelligence leaker is a hero, risking career and more to reveal warrantless eavesdropping, interrogations bordering on torture, prisons out of reach of American law. Or the leaker is a villain, whose treachery endangers the lives of American operatives, exposes intelligence methods and scares off foreign agents.

Or a little bit of both.

In fact, American intelligence leaks have created divisions since the Revolutionary War, when the pamphleteer Thomas Paine publicized documents containing a state secret: that the United States received covert aid from France before it openly became an ally. Paine was forced to resign as secretary of a Congressional committee in 1779.

In the last three decades, there have been several other episodes in which an intelligence leak generated a national debate over the benefits and harm of such disclosures.

In 1974, for example, Seymour Hersh, then a reporter for The New York Times, chronicled the details of what government sources had leaked to him: a 690-page compilation of agency break-ins, wiretapping and reading of mail, plus files on 10,000 Americans.

Mr. Hersh began his Dec. 22, 1974, article: "The Central Intelligence Agency, directly violating its charter, conducted a massive, illegal domestic intelligence operation during the Nixon Administration against the antiwar movement and other dissident groups in the United States, according to well-placed government sources."

The article prompted a presidential commission and two Congressional inquiries, leading to new laws governing the spy agencies. Mr. Hersh, now with The New Yorker, declined to comment on his reporting or on leaks. "I never talk about sources," he said.



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