National Security and the First Amendment

September 27, 2012 —

The perennial debate between the needs of national security and the prerogatives of a free press was on display September 20 when investigative reporter Dana Priest of the Washington Post accepted the Constitution Project’s Constitutional Commentary Award for herself and colleague William Arkin for Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State (Little, Brown & Company, 2012). 

The book examines how the clandestine world created by the government after 9/11 has gotten “so enormous, so unwieldy, and so secretive” that no one knows if it keeps Americans safe.

Priest, whose reporting on CIA black-site prisons earned her a Pulitzer Prize, said that when she was working on the book, she bought a copy of the Constitution to remind her of the important work she was doing.

“There were moments when I picked it up and began reading parts of it to remind myself what my role is … you can’t have a strong democracy without a kicking and screaming press,” she said.

Professor Laura Donohue led a panel discussion on national security, journalism and the First Amendment that included Priest; Kenneth Wainstein, the first assistant attorney general for National Security; Harvey Rishikoff, chair of the advisory committee of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security; and Lucy Dalglish, dean of the University of Maryland’s journalism school. Topics included the government’s “top-secret” classification scheme; the need to replace the 1917 Espionage Act; and the roles the press and government play in the publication of sensitive material.

The Constitution Project co-sponsored the event along with Georgetown Law’s Center on National Security and the Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier.