Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Times Flap / Kellergate / Latest Blog Hysteria

I've been following the debacle related to the NYT reporting on the financial records spying program and subsequent fallout, and I have to say I really agree with the right-wing half of the blogosphere on this one. Insta has a lot of informative links here, and then later here. I proceed on the following assumptions, which to me seem so far to be relatively indisputable:

1) The program was legal in nature as the government already has and always has had a lot of authority to search bank records and in that sense nothing like the NSA/FISA debacle.

2) The program was very effective in identifying the assets of terrorist groups and helping to freeze them.

3) There is not really any other effective way for this to be done.

4) It was pretty much widely assumed something like this was going on anyway.

The only one that works in the NYT favor in this dump of classified information is number 4. 1-3 indicate that this was probably a good program for national security purposes and was not doing anything wrong, thus disclosing its nature when it was classified is at best irresponsible and arrogant and at worse akin to notifying the enemy of secret Pentagon weapons or plans. I don't think there should be some sort of Congressional denunciation of the newspaper. That's completely hyperbolic. Nor do I think the NYT committed some sort of treason or act of espionage. This was intentional, but I doubt that the Times really thought about how this would effect the behavior of terrorists or damage the government's ability to go after their finances. They're less criminal than they are incredibly stupid.

That said, I think the NYT deserves the flaying its getting and every word of this criticism, and I do think their should be inquiries to punish the leaker. The NYT is continuously basking in non-existent First Amendment "privileges" - their term - that it seems to think enable the media to do everything it wants to compromise classified information. That's an irresponsible attitude and shows a lack of concern for national security and, when you get down to it, the public interest as it should be defined (instead of how the Times defines it). If you believe the NYT argument, their basically should be no such thing as classified information that is protected. And that is a ridiculous notion. Sure the Bush Administration has abused secrecy by classifying just about everything, and sure we have a severe problem because whistleblowers in the intelligence industry have nowhere to go, but those should be cause for reform and political accountability. They are not cause to play "gotcha" tactics by exposing secrets for its own sake in a sort of phony, gutless move of civil disobedience.

We do need reform. The Bush Administration is abusing transparency. We need some form of whistleblower protection for people in intelligence. What we don't need is the Times playing games with some of our effective and legal weapons on terrorism for either institutional gain of its own or political games.