Friday, December 30, 2005

Journalistic Ethics, Redux 

It's like deja vu all over again. Farhad Manjoo of Salon's War Room assures us the upcoming NSA wiretap leak investigation is nothing like L'Affaire Plame. Well of course it's not:

...this leak was morally and ethically quite different from the leak of Valerie Plame's identity. In that case, someone in the Bush Administration was talking to reporters about Plame and her husband Joe Wilson in an effort to damage them; it was a scurrilous act, and the journalists who dealt with those officials weren't very easy to defend.

The eavesdropping leak, though, was just the opposite: The leakers here were disclosing something of vital interest to Americans. The journalists here were trying to get that story to the public....the real story is the Bush plan to wiretap Americans without legal oversight. As we go down the rabbit hole of another leak investigation, let's keep that in mind.

Oooooh! Let's do. Never mind the law. Focus on What The Journalists Were Trying To Do! The end justifies the means. Oversight committees, national security, need-to-know, and all that sort of thing are just so 5 minutes ago. And after all, legality is such a tired old concept, don't you think? Keeping these matters in perspective simply requires that one maintain a suitably flexible urban viewpoint.

As I recall, the concern voiced by journalists and the liberal punditocracy was that "outing" the reclusive Ms. Plame and the positively publicity-shy Joe Wilson would endanger the vast foreign spy networks she'd been running from the relative safety of Northern Virgina for the past five years. Indeed, the CIA were so alarmed when Bob Novak phoned them about the story that they pulled out all the stops to quash it...

Oh wait.

That never happened, did it? And then, strangely enough, though establishing Ms. Plame's covert status was an essential element of the crime he was hired to investigate, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald allowed the entire investigation to go by before even casually trying to ascertain whether any of Ms. Plame's friends and neighbors knew of her employment with the CIA. This despite several articles, one in the liberal New Republic, stating that 'everyone in Georgetown knew' who she worked for.

So for the folks at home who haven't been keeping score, let's review the Affair Plame scorecard:

- 1 leak investigation

- 0 indictments on the "leak" part

- 0 demonstrations that Ms. Plame was, in fact, "covert" (is this so hard?)

- 1 reporter who lied to the prosecutor, spent 85 days in jail, still has not yielded up her other source, made misleading and inaccurate statements about things which are written right in her own notebook (which she says she "forgot", though she was sitting in jail for 85 days which seems plenty of time to "remember" such a detail), yet got off scot-free

- another reporter who apparently knew far more than he was telling but didn't "feel" like testifying and got off scot free

- 1 White House staffer who made misleading and inaccurate statements, has been working full time at a very busy job all this time, also claims to have a poor recollection. He, of course, is under indictment. But not for the crime that was originally being investigated.

Perfectly understandable. Your tax dollars at work. Meanwhile back at the Ponderosa, the folks at the WaPo, some of the very same people who've been wringing their hands over the sad fate of poor Val Plame's endangered spy networks, recently met with President Bush:

Howard Kurtz reports that the administration called in Leonard Downie, the executive editor of the Washington Post, to request that they not publish Dana Priest's story about certain terror suspects being questions in prisons in secret prisons abroad. Reportedly, President Bush made a personal request.

"When senior administration officials raised national security questions about details in Dana's story during her reporting, at their request we met with them on more than one occasion," Downie says. "The meetings were off the record for the purpose of discussing national security issues in her story." At least one of the meetings involved John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, and CIA Director Porter Goss, the sources said.

Betsy Newmark, who is really no better than she should be, comments:

That really is amazing that the President, director of national intelligence, and the head of the CIA could talk to the Washington Post about the risks of running the story and that they would go ahead and do so anyway. Apparently, the editors and reporters feel that they are better able to judge what endangers national security.

What Betsy clearly fails to understand is that this was equivalent to a Cabinet meeting. I keep trying to remind you people that the press is now the fourth branch of government. Laugh it up. At any rate, Leonard courteously took time out of his busy day to hear the President out, and the next day Dana published her CIA secret prisons piece anyway. And here we see the result:

An Italian court has issued Europe-wide arrest warrants for 22 suspected CIA agents accused of helping to kidnap a Muslim cleric in Milan in 2003. The new warrants allow for the suspects' detention anywhere in the 25-nation EU, a prosecutor said.

The authorities had already issued arrest orders within Italy.

All 22 suspects are thought to have returned to the US, a formal Italian extradition request seems unlikely, our correspondent adds.

Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli has signed the warrants, a move officials described as a formality. There was no word on whether Mr Castelli would seek extradition, but he has previously accused the judge involved of being a leftist militant and anti-American.

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is a close US ally and has said he can see no basis for the case.

So now, thanks to the Washington Post, we have our European allies issuing arrest warrants for CIA operatives.

Not content with that little piece of work, Ms. Priest is busily trying to give away the rest of the candy store:

The effort President Bush authorized shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, to fight al Qaeda has grown into the largest CIA covert action program since the height of the Cold War, expanding in size and ambition despite a growing outcry at home and abroad over its clandestine tactics, according to former and current intelligence officials and congressional and administration sources.

The broad-based effort, known within the agency by the initials GST, is compartmentalized into dozens of highly classified individual programs, details of which are known mainly to those directly involved.

GST includes programs allowing the CIA to capture al Qaeda suspects with help from foreign intelligence services, to maintain secret prisons abroad, to use interrogation techniques that some lawyers say violate international treaties, and to maintain a fleet of aircraft to move detainees around the globe. Other compartments within GST give the CIA enhanced ability to mine international financial records and eavesdrop on suspects anywhere in the world.

This program is so tip-top, ultra-ultra super-dooper secret that Ms. Priest devotes four pages of online text to telling you (and anyone else who cares to know) everything she's managed to ferret out about it. But the best part, as the invaluable Cori Dauber observes, is when Priest's full-blown Bush Derangemenet Syndrome comes to the fore, as on page 3.

Tenet, according to half a dozen former intelligence officials, delegated most of the decision making on lethal action to the CIA's Counterterrorist Center. Killing an al Qaeda leader with a Hellfire missile fired from a remote-controlled drone might have been considered assassination in a prior era and therefore banned by law.

But after Sept. 11, four former government lawyers said, it was classified as an act of self-defense and therefore was not an assassination. "If it was an al Qaeda person, it wouldn't be an assassination," said one lawyer involved.

This month, Pakistani intelligence sources said, Hamza Rabia, a top operational planner for al Qaeda, was killed along with four others by a missile fired by U.S. operatives using an unmanned Predator drone, although there were conflicting reports on whether a missile was used. In May, another al Qaeda member, Haitham Yemeni, was reported killed by a Predator drone missile in northwest Pakistan.

Assassination? Well not quite. A little research would have gone a long way here. Cori comments:

That is patent nonsense. The laws regarding the circumstances under which someone can be killed are complex -- it's why the Air Force and Naval aviation units employ so many JAG officers to go over targeting decisions -- but they have nothing to do with questions about "assassination."

For one thing, the ban on assassination is not legislative, it's an Executive Order, so if the President wanted to do away with it, he could do so with the stroke of a pen. And for another, assassination is generally defined as the killing of a head of state, and not even Osama bin Laden meets that criteria.

There's another reason this is all nonsense. Let's take a walk through history...via the 9/11 commission report:

In 1997 CIA headquarters authorized U.S. officials to begin developing a network of agents to gather intelligence inside Afghanistan about Bin Ladin and his organization and prepare a plan to capture him. By 1998 DCI Tenet was giving considerable personal attention to the UBL threat...

Many CIA officers, including Deputy Director for Operations Pavitt, have criticized policymakers for not giving the CIA authorities to conduct effective operations against Bin Ladin. This issue manifests itself in a debate about the scope of the covert actions in Afghanistan authorized by President Clinton. NSC staff and CIA officials differ starkly here.

Senior NSC staff members told us they believed the president’s intent was clear: he wanted Bin Ladin dead. On successive occasions, President Clinton issued authorities instructing the CIA to use its proxies to capture or assault Bin Ladin and his lieutenants in operations in which they might be killed. [Yet for some inexplicable reason - note, my addition] The instructions, except in one defined contingency, were to capture Bin Ladin if possible.

Senior legal advisers in the Clinton administration agreed that, under the law of armed conflict, killing a person who posed an imminent threat to the United States was an act of self-defense, not an assassination. As former National Security Adviser Berger explained, if we wanted to kill Bin Ladin with cruise missiles, why would we not want to kill him with covert action? Clarke’s recollection is the same.

This must have been before he signed that lucrative book deal.

I must say that as a military wife, it's nice to see that the journalistic community supports covert operatives in the very same heartwarming way they support our troops. On the North wall of the original HQ building there is an interesting exhibit, should you ever visit there. There ought to be 83 stars there, but there are only 48 so far. Doubtless sooner or later Dana Priest will get ahold of the other 35 names and splash them across the pages of the WaPo.

I wonder if any of them died of a case of journalistic ethics? I hear they can be hazardous to your health.


By Blogger protein wisdom, at Fri Dec 30, 10:36:00 PM:

Great post.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sat Dec 31, 07:01:00 AM:


By Blogger Cassandra, at Sat Dec 31, 09:44:00 AM:

Thanks, Jeff :)

Sorry for the rant TH - I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but when I saw this I thought my head was going to explode...  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sat Dec 31, 11:12:00 AM:

No need to apologize, it was a good post. And we certainly can't have your head exploding, now can we?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Apr 17, 06:07:00 PM:

Why do you hate the Bill of Rights?  

By Blogger Pat's Rick©, at Mon Apr 17, 07:28:00 PM:

I'm sorry. Bill of Rights?

How, exactly does that play in this matter?

Is it Priest's religion (no pun - oh, wait) we are trying not to abridge? Remember "Congress shall make no laws..."

Let me see, did we confiscate her weapon? No, that would be her typewriter, not a gun.

See, freedom of speech (which I think you mean) has to do with, again, Congress:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

We are at war, in case you don't realize it. Oh, yes, and we were attacked. We did not start this war and it will not be over in a day, but with the "help" of these journalists, it might take many more years than otherwise.

Thanks, Cassandra, for being so ... well ... right. And so articulate. I'm glad I found you here.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Apr 26, 03:51:00 PM:

Great post.

On the Plame weirdness, you can add one more - an unnamed government official seems to have:

(a) leaked to Woodward in June and Novak in July;

(b) failed to disclose his leak to Woodward when he first spoke with investigators, and only volunteered it in November 2005.

One might think that (a) was a heinous breach of national security, and (b) was obstruction of an investigation.

However, Patrick Fitzgerald and Judge Walton are concealing his name from the public and the Libby defense because:

...[Judge] Walton said the source's identity is not relevant, and there is no reason to sully the source's reputation because the person faces no charges.

Don't sully him! Don't leak out the leaker (who is probably Armitage, then Deputy Secretary of State.)  

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