The Schorr Case: The Real Dangers

William Colby
William Colby; drawing by David Levine


One of the first steps in solving a crime is to determine who benefited by it. The chief beneficiaries in the leak of the Pike committee report on intelligence were the intelligence agencies themselves. The report turned up on the CBS evening news Sunday, January 25, and in the first editions that same evening of The New York Times for Monday, January 26. When the House of Representatives met in Washington at noon next day the minority on the Pike committee launched the attack which led three days later to the vote against release of the report.

Logic, probabilities, and the circumstantial are not proof. Folly can never be excluded. But an examination of the strange circumstances in which the report was suppressed may put newspapermen on their guard and show the public what we are all up against in dealing with secret agencies. The Pike committee voted nine to four on the afternoon of Friday, January 23, to release its report. Everything was ready for publication after months of hard work and agonizing hassles with the intelligence agencies and the executive branch. The majority of the committee and the staff were triumphant. The last hurdles to publication seemed to have been safely cleared.

Yet that very weekend someone leaked a copy of the report to The New York Times and to Daniel Schorr of CBS, giving the intelligence agencies their chance to discredit the committee and block release of the report.

This leak was not, repeat not, a leak to thwart censorship. Under the rules of the House and the resolution establishing its Select Committee on Intelligence (the Pike committee), that nine to four vote on Friday afternoon, January 23, was all that was needed to release the report. The committee did not have to go to the Rules Committee for permission, nor did it need a vote of the House to make the report public. The report would have been released automatically as soon as copies came back from the printer. It was the leak that did the committee in.

At the time of the leak, The New York Times and CBS were not giving the public information that would otherwise have been suppressed. They were merely getting the report in advance of their competitors. At that point, their news stories were a beat, not a public service. Indeed, as soon became clear, it was a public disservice to jump the gun by a few days on official release of the report at the cost of giving its enemies—and the enemies of the press—just the opportunity they were looking for.

The leak fit beautifully with a well-synchronized attack by the enemies of the report. On Monday morning, January 26, Daniel Schorr showed his copy of the Pike report on CBS morning news and The New York Times arrived in Washington with extensive stories on what the report contained. This…

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