Saturday, 17 December 2005

Question of the Day

Julian Sanchez gets to the heart of my thoughts about the New York Times story on the NSA’s spying on Americans/terrorists (depending on who’s doing the framing):

[W]hy on earth did the Times, apparently at the Bush administration’s request, sit on this story for a full year? The supposed reason for the request is that the revelation would threaten national security by tipping off terrorists. But… about what? About the fact that the government is seeking to wiretap suspected terrorist[s]? To whom does this come as news? We all know law enforcement can get secret wiretap warrants through a FISA court; the only reason to expect terrorists to change their behavior now that they know wiretaps are happening without warrants is if we think they’ve somehow broached the secrecy of the FISA courts. That seems unlikely—at any rate, unlikely to have been known about and still persisted for several years. So what kind of plausible difference to our national security could it make if terror suspects who know they might be targeted for eavesdropping with a warrant learn they might be targeted without one?

Good question. Meanwhile, Jeff Goldstein and James Joyner call for frogmarching of the leak culprits, since just what we need is another fake beltway scandal as the counterpoint to the Plame nonsense.


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I don’t see how this is a fake crime. Valerie Plame’s identity was hardly a matter of national security. That we are conducting a codeword classified operation is, on the other hand, incredibly sensitive.

My initial inclination is to agree with Julian that the national security value of the information would seem rather slight. But this may well get to sources and methods—the vanguard of classified informaton—in a way that, not being privy to the program, I don’t understand.


This is not a fake crime, and I’m not referring to the wiretaps. It’s common for career bureaucrats with their own agendas and ideological predispositions to undermine elected leaders through leaks. If they want to be whistleblowers there are avenues for that and laws to protect them. This smells of agenda pushing by the leakers and the Times, due to them holding off for a year.

Add me to the list of frogmarchers.


A distinction (perhaps without a difference): I called it a fake scandal, not a fake crime. The leak probably is illegal. In the context of the pervasive beltway culture of leaks (which, best as I can tell, is the only way the Times and WaPo stay in business), though, I can’t get too worked up about it.

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