Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Security and Secrecy

The New York Times introduces their latest defense of the indefensible with a warning, that prior attempts to prosecute the press for disclosing national security secrets did not “turn out well.” In reminiscing about the Pentagon Papers, the editors of the Times reveal the template they’ve used all along in fighting the Bush Administration in their proxy war-against-the-war.

It’s just like Vietnam. That’s why they had to blow the whistle on this whole spying thing. “That damned Johnson,” as Jenny’s irresponsible peacenik squeeze in Forrest Gump said, in excusing his own tawdry and reprehensible behavior.

Whether the war in Iraq, or the broader Global War on Terror, the Times can’t seem to make up its mind. They’re one and the same, so let’s fight against both as a “war based on lies.” Or they’re not the same, so why is the Bush Administration getting distracted from Bin Laden and Al Qaeda with this nation building in Iraq?

“As most of our readers know, there is a large wall between the news and opinion operations of this paper.” Close readers of the last decade of Times reporting must find this claim the most outrageous at all.

Is this meant to harken back to Jamie Gorelick’s infamous “wall of separation,” or is it just high irony? Isn’t this the editorial (and all too often, news section A) version of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” game the Times has been playing throughout the global war on terror?

When doing post mortems on 9/11 and the response of our Intelligence and terror fighting services, it’s “why didn’t they connect the dots?” “By God, they had seven scraps of intercept that allude to the big attack!” (Out of millions.) “Here, a disgruntled and underappreciated CIA analyst warned them Bin Laden wanted to attack the US, how come nobody was looking for it?”

There were few commentators as shrill with 20/20 hindsight as the editors of the Times.

Then comes evidence of a muscular and proactive assault on terror making organizations and individuals, using multiple avenues and methods, and the Times is screaming about violations of civil liberties, attacks on privacy (although usually more speculative or postulated than actually in evidence), and extreme violations of “long established” checks and balances of powers of the three branches of government.

Which has translated thus, for the Times of the past 15 years: when in Democratic hands, a strengthened Executive is preferred; when GOP, maintain that the Executive has become Imperial. This, despite evidence that both Clinton and Bush administrations argued for and in many cases, attempted to draw the lines, in exactly the same spots.

If it weren’t revelatory of a grave threat to public support for what will be a multi-Administration (and likely multi-generational) fight against radical Islamic terrorism, watching the Times Editorial Board spin in logical circles might be amusing.

So the Times remains ever vigilant to reveal those state secrets, which Bill Keller in his exalted wisdom as non-elected and self-appointed arbiter of all things trustworthy, deems worthy of public (and therefore the Jihadis Hirabah) scrutiny.

Even that would be tolerable in an Open Society, were it not for the fact that, so far, the New York Times has never met a secret that wouldn’t benefit from full public disclosure. Because, you see, this most recent story looks to the Times “like part of an alarming pattern.”

Forgive us skeptics, Mr. Keller, if we think the continued disclosures of national security secrets by James Risen and his Times fellow conspirators look “like part of an alarming pattern.” Something closer to treason than public service.

Those lingering supporters of the Rosenbergs not dissuaded by revelations tied to VENONA, depict them as well-intentioned if misguided idealists, who felt the immense power of the atomic bomb needed to be shared among super powers, rather than the sole property of one.

The Times wants to make the case that the Bush Administration operates in the throes of hysteria, notably reminiscent of the Cold War:

Ever since Sept. 11, the Bush administration has taken the necessity of heightened vigilance against terrorism and turned it into a rationale for an extraordinarily powerful executive branch, exempt from the normal checks and balances of our system of government. It has created powerful new tools of surveillance and refused, almost as a matter of principle, to use normal procedures that would acknowledge that either Congress or the courts have an oversight role.

Forget being stuck on Vietnam, the Editors at the Times are still stuck on the Cold War. Thus all the Cold War rhetoric and allusions. Can it be that the Times retains the illusion that there was no real Cold War threat or justification for rooting out domestic spies, or aggressively countering Soviet hegemony abroad?

You think I exaggerate? How else to interpret the cryptic reference that concludes the Times latest argument for self-defense, emphasis mine:

The United States will soon be marking the fifth anniversary of the war on terror. The country is in this for the long haul, and the fight has to be coupled with a commitment to individual liberties that define America's side in the battle. A half-century ago, the country endured a long period of amorphous, global vigilance against an enemy who was suspected of boring from within, and history suggests that under those conditions, it is easy to err on the side of security and secrecy. The free press has a central place in the Constitution because it can provide information the public needs to make things right again. Even if it runs the risk of being labeled unpatriotic in the process.

“Easy to err on the side of security and secrecy.” Easy? Not if the Editors at the Times have anything to say about it, and you can bet they do.

One might have made another observation about the Cold War, and the necessity to maintain both security and secrecy. Not just the easiest ting to do, but the safest and wisest, as well.

Cross-posted at Milblogs, with other commentary at The American Thinker, RantingProfs, Newsbusters, Patterico's Pontifications, Junkyard Blog. More commentary at The Q & O Blog, Sweetness and Light, Professor Bainbridge, The Glittering Eye, Jeff Jarvis, American Future.)

Linked at Mudville Gazette.

UPDATE: Jack Kelly at Real Clear Politics says President Bush shoudl welcome a fight with the media. Kelly declares that, however disenchanted the public is about Iraq, they are furious with the Times over their repeated disclosures of secret counter-terror operations:
Ordinary Americans are furious with the Times both for what it has done, and for its arrogance in doing it. And journalists don't have much popularity to lose. In a Harris survey in March, only 14 percent of respondents expressed a "great deal" of confidence in the press, while 34 percent had "hardly any."

In picking a fight with journalists over leaks, President Bush would be picking on one of the few groups in America less popular than he is, on the issue where he is on the firmest ground with the public.
I may not agree with his conclusion to advise the President, politically, to consider prosecution. But Kelly is right on target with his critique, and assessment of the relative popularity of the President and his media critics.

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