NY Times: National Circulation vs. National Security

I wrote this article on June 26, 2006

On December 16, 2005 the New York Times published one of its many articles about the Bush administration’s so-called illegal tapping of and “spying” against American citizens. And not too long ago, the Times also revealed that the Bush administration has been casting a wide net, a possibly law bending or breaking net, by tapping random (I doubt this, but I don’t have the data–it just doesn’t make sense not to have SOME selection process in setting taps, even illegal ones) citizens’ phones. Heck, I even blogged about that instance of our “law-breaking” President. Immediately after 9/11, the President, along with a whole horde of Congressmen and women, said that one way to identify, find, and stop terrorist activity (by al Queada and its affiliates) was to “follow the money.”

But now the Times has run a story in which it lays out in detail the exact means—a “how to,” a play by play—by which one of our government’s antiterrorist operations tracks the flow of terrorist monies in order to get a handle on terrorist activity. They have essentially provided both the American public and the terrorists with a blueprint for hiding, transferring, and obtaining large sums of money for the purposes of terrorist activity on American soil. Some of the information the Times reports in this story is classified information, that means that it has been determined by government officials that it is to remain secret.

Indeed, the President himself invited both the relevant editor (Bill Keller) and the publisher of the Times to the Oval Office to ask them in person not to print the story as a matter of national security. And as Newsweek explains it, the President of the United States of America is not at all interested in catching terrorists, in stopping terrorist activity in this country, or for that matter in national security: “No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story—which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker” http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10536559/site/newsweek/. Even if you hate Bush for his policies, his politics, or just on principle, you’d have a really hard time convincing anyone, maybe even yourself, that this man does not care about national security or protecting America. It’s the most absurd thing I’ve heard. If anything, he cares too much, but that’s why the Times had already revealed that Bush is a “law breaker,” right? Didn’t we already know that? Isn’t that like shutting the door after the horse has bolted?

The Times printed the story, and one of its primary “reasons” for doing so was to reveal to the American public that the President’s administration is breaking the law in its fight against terror. Keller says himself that the program they exposed was both “legal and effective,” so if he’s trying to expose “law breaking” why target a LEGAL program and effectively cripple its effectiveness in the doing? Keller also notes that the correct subpoenas are being issued to obtain the banking information, that’s part of the legality angle. So why expose a “legal and effective” antiterrorist operation? So that they can also “reveal” other (not related to the program and National Security, mind you) “law breaking” (that stuff we’ve already read and blogged about, remember?) And if that is all they wanted to “reveal” (yet again) why not do so without revealing important information that will help no one and hurt no one (in the administration, remember, Keller himself notes that the program exhaustively detailed in the story is “legal and effective”)? But actually, it WILL help one group . . . the terrorists themselves.

The average person on the street may well be interested to know as we were told by the President and his administration that one means of catching terrorists is to “follow the money,” but do we really need to or even want to know the intricate details of how that is accomplished? Especially if knowing is at the risk of informing not only our citizens but also the terrorists themselves, who let’s face it, have a far greater stake in knowing minute detail than we do. I am not enriched from reading this article, from following a complex path from Zurich and around the world; hell, I didn’t understand half of it, much less do I feel grateful for the information. I have no use for it. But you can bet that the educated, intelligent, and financially savvy terrorists understood it. And you can bet they have a use for it.

Catching a lot of flack for (as Michelle Malkin puts it) “ publishing vital government secrets in the middle of a perilous war,” the Times invokes the First Amendment. Well, they invoke the First Amendment after whining like a 9th grader, “why [are] they [“conservative bloggers and pundits] drawing so much attention to the story themselves by yelling about it . . . ” (this from Keller, the editor who chose to publish the story). If you don’t have a good response, then turn it around on the people who are exercising their right to free speech in outrage about the story’s content and publication. It’s not a big leap to imagine that a relatively sophisticated terror network is reading the New York Times, hell, if I were bin Laden, I’d not only subscribe but send monetary support for all the tips and information (one reason it’s not a big leap is that bin Laden himself in his video taped messages has told us that he knows what’s going on in this country, and how might he? Gee, let’s work this one out.).

When silly little “points” like this fall flat, Keller and the Times fall back on the First Amendment. Apparently, freedom of speech does not include using common sense, ethics, or responsibility. The information they leaked to the terrorists (and they did so much more easily and quickly than sending some secret coded message) may cost thousands of American lives. Yes, we are willing to die for our rights, for our freedoms, but are we willing to be sacrificed by our own press? Are you personally willing to die tomorrow or later this year so that the Times can make a tremendous profit (they are a business, a huge corporation, after all)? Does anyone really imagine that the Times had, in this instance, the public’s well being or rights in mind? Is the Times protecting the Constitution? No, they are interested in making money, just like any other big business, and just like any other big business, they will be misleading about their motives and they will act reprehensibly and they will endanger all of us . . . in service not to liberty, not to the First Amendment, but to the Almighty Dollar.

For the sake of clarity and to avoid misunderstandings, let me tell you what I am NOT saying in this post: I am not saying that I disapprove of or otherwise wish to change the First Amendment; I am not saying that I believe we should revoke the freedoms of the press, and I am not saying that the press should ever EVER sit on a story that exposes illegal and/or ineffective measures the U. S. government is taking against terrorism (indeed, I think that would be a travesty). Freedom of the press was intended to ensure that the government could not quell such stories, and it is a right that we should protect . . . in the case of governmental wrong doing!

What I AM saying is that publishing the intricate details of the government’s legal measures to fight terror, a story that contains classified information affecting national security and does not expose any wrong doing on the part of the President or any government agency, is foolish, irresponsible, and damned dangerous. There is no social reason, no public awareness reason to run it, none. Read Keller (link below), even he doesn’t provide one.

For Michelle Malkin’s article on this issue (from which I quoted above): http://michellemalkin.com/archives/005439.htm

For Bill Keller’s flaccid defense of the Times’ running this story (also quoted and referenced above): http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/25/business/media/25keller-letter.html

For a Times op-ed: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/24/opinion/24sat1.html


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