Whatever will the United States say and do about the expulsion of New York Times' reporter Matthew Rosenberg from Afghanistan?
Would Rosenberg be prosecuted by the Justice Department as a "leaker" if he refused to reveal his Afghan sources on a story about an American coup plot? The Times' James Risen, for example, is facing prison time for refusing to divulge his sources in a story about the CIA and an Iran nuclear controversy.
President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder could pardon Risen for only doing a reporter's job and call for Rosenberg's return to Afghanistan as a condition of continued American aid.
The issue is not simply about the autocratic rule of Afghanistan's outgoing president Muhammad Karzai. The subject of Rosenberg's reporting suggests the possibility of CIA facilitating a coup if Afghanistan's rival presidential candidates remain in their standoff.
A spokesman for Karzai accused both the Times and Rosenberg of, “Following a deep state agenda," which is code for exposing alleged behind-the-scenes interventions by American security officials in Afghanistan's political affairs.
Rosenberg says he relied on secret sources to describe the plot to replace Karzai with an "interim government," which would "effectively amount to a coup," according to the Times’ account.
Since the national economy of Afghanistan is based on Western aid and since stolen elections have been the pattern of rule, the Rosenberg story on a potential coup, apparently with American knowledge if not direction - would be a story very much in the public interest.
Yet if the Obama administration drops the hammer on reporters investigating what can be called "deep state secrets" of its own, how can Karzai be faulted for mimicking the policies of Obama? There is no answer to the question, but it offers a way out of an embarrassing policy now linking Washington to Kabul.