Is Freedom of Press A Threat To Liberia's "National Security"?

The Perspective
February 26, 2001

There is something rather conning and deceptive about the charge of espionage that the Government of Liberia has accused four journalists of being engaged in. When the government asserts that the article written by the journalists which alluded to the use of US$50,000.00 to repair helicopters, was meant to "divulge military secrets to the enemies", it clearly raises more questions than answers. What are the "military secrets" that the journalist have divulged? And who are the enemies?

Which Military Secrets? If Liberia has any, it can only be found hidden in the heads of the bankrupt national leadership, but for most of the citizenry, the military and security build-up they've witnessed and have experienced, have been in the public domain and much in evidence since Mr. Taylor assumed the presidency. For the last three years of his administration, there has been a progressive increase in the percentage of the national budget allocated for military and security needs, all for Mr. Taylor's personal protection. At least over 75% of the national budget has been devoted to military and security matters, compared to development and other needs.

Enemies? Surely, the Government has created both internal and external enemies. By repressing freedom of the press, freedom of speech and association, it has created a reservoir of enemies among patriotic citizens (many of whom have been driven into exile or killed), who are determined to see Taylor removed from power. And, of course, its well-known role in destabilizing the sub-region has made it the enemy of its neighbors, who have no other ambitions than protecting their sovereign state from a criminal cabal that is bent on destroying them.

Every sovereign country has the right to protect its national security interests which are absolutely essential to guarding it against foreign threats or enemies intent on undermining that country's national existence. The concept of national security was much in vogue, and was held sacred during the heights of the Cold War when there was ideological competition and rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States for various spheres of influence around the world. It was during this period when superpowers resorted to the use of spying tactics or espionage and other techniques to gather secrets on one another, which was used to undermine the strength and weakness of each country.

But since the triumph of the United States and the West in the competition, much of the intrigues that characterized the Cold War have either disappeared or have been suppressed. Notwithstanding, in the last few years, and as recently as few days ago, a FBI agent, Robert Hansen, and before him, a CIA agent, Aldridge Ames, were reported to be involved in spying for Russia. Compared to the scale or level, at which it existed 15 to 20 years ago, this is nothing. It is also far-fetched that the new world would ever revert to its Cold War days. The new world reality now places emphasis on democracy, the rule of law, and the respect for human rights.

Even though Liberia fell within the sphere of influence of the West during the Cold War, it is now or has never been of any real strategic importance to the West. Despite the presence of the Omega Navigation Tower and other American based institutions, Liberia was still not considered strategic, critical to America's triumph in the Cold War. What is more, inspite of its regional and sub-regional ambitions, Liberia has no strategic resource that could threaten the national security interests of the United States.

But the most troubling and disingenuous of the Government of Liberia charge of espionage against the journalists is when it categorically states that the article was intended to "reveal national defense information to a foreign power for the purpose of injuring Liberiain the event of a military or diplomatic confrontation" with Liberia. Clearly, nothing could be further from the truth and unfounded as this statement. Why would a "foreign power" harbor an intention of confronting Liberia militarily or diplomatically, by using Liberian journalists as spying agents in the process? Not only does this show a lack of understanding of the game of espionage, but completely turns logic upside down. Foreign powers have at their disposal, their foreign embassies, and their enormous cultural and developmental institutions, networks, and resources they could draw on instantaneously to gather information without the bother of local citizens. So what is there to be gained by a foreign power using local journalists to spy on their country?

But it is quite clear that having been haunted by sanctions, which is still pending, and having only two months "Grace Period" to disprove himself against the scathing report of the UN Panel of Experts, Mr. Taylor is desperate to shift blame wherever he can find it. Sadly, it is innocent people who once again would become victimized in the process. Liberians and people of conscience should therefore not relent, but continue to expose these human rights abuses.

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