Let's return to the 2009 story that Fox News correspondent James Rosen published on North Korea, kicking off a federal leak investigation and the FBI accusation that he was guilty of criminal conduct. "U.S. intelligence officials have warned President Obama and other senior American officials that North Korea intends to respond to the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution this week... with another nuclear test," he reported that June 11. "What's more, Pyongyang's next nuclear detonation is but one of four planned actions the Central Intelligence Agency has learned, through sources inside North Korea, that the regime of Kim Jong-Il intends to take -- but not announce -- once the Security Council resolution is officially passed, likely on Friday."
Although Rosen's story asserts that it is "withholding some details about the sources and methods ... to avoid compromising sensitive overseas operations," the basic detail that the CIA has "sources inside North Korea" privy to its future plans is very compromising stuff all by itself. As Rosen continues, "U.S. spymasters regard [North Korea] as one of the world's most difficult to penetrate."
Once the North Koreans read the story, they must have asked if the source of the intel was human or if their communications had been breached. In any event, you can assume that the North Koreans commenced a leak probe that made the U.S. investigation look like the prosecution of a parking ticket. I have a hard time understanding what purpose Rosen's scoop served. He appears to have uncovered no wrongdoing by the CIA in North Korea and no dramatic or scandalous change of U.S. policy that's being concealed from the U.S. public. Boiled to its essence, the story says the U.S. has penetrated North Korean leadership. It's a story, all right, but I can't imagine any U.S. news outlet running it without more cause, and I'll bet that Fox News would take it back today if it could. I doubt that Rosen has committed any crimes against the state, but offenses against common journalistic sense?
I'm not so sure.
Kevin Drum also has harsh words for Rosen and his source.
These are strong arguments. I remain undecided about the wisdom of the story, since I know neither why Rosen's alleged source, Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, found it important to leak this information; nor why Rosen wanted to publish the story; nor what really happened in North Korea; nor what Rosen knew but excluded from his story to protect sources inside North Korea. Given what we know, it is certainly plausible that this individual story, taken in isolation, had little journalistic benefit and imposed a high cost on people working against a totalitarian regime.