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The [Thursday] Papers

"The Central Intelligence Agency leaked classified material to reporters to shape the perception that its detention and interrogation program was an effective tool in thwarting terrorism, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report released Tuesday," the New York Times reports.

And reporters bit.

Again.

Think of the ramifications of news agencies acting as patsies to the political interests of the national security state - enabling war, torture, extrajudicial presidencies . . .

There is blood on the hands of this nation's media establishment - simply because they are not smart enough or skilled enough to do their job properly, or because they are greedy, vainglorious opportunists willing to pass along fake scoops to advance their careers, or because they see the world through the same prism as those they cover.

The effect is devastating.

Here's Jack Shafer for Reuters in 2013:

Leakers like Snowden, Manning and Ellsberg don't merely risk being called narcissists, traitors or mental cases for having liberated state secrets for public scrutiny. They absolutely guarantee it. In the last two days, the New York Times's David Brooks, Politico's Roger Simon, the Washington Post's Richard Cohen and others have vilified Snowden for revealing the government's aggressive spying on its own citizens, calling him self-indulgent, a loser and a narcissist.

Yet even as the insults pile up and the amateur psychoanalysis intensifies, keep in mind that Snowden's leak has more in common with the standard Washington leak than should make the likes of Brooks, Simon and Cohen comfortable. Without defending Snowden for breaking his vow to safeguard secrets, he's only done in the macro what the national security establishment does in the micro every day of the week to manage, manipulate and influence ongoing policy debates. Keeping the policy leak separate from the heretic leak is crucial to understanding how these stories play out in the press.

Secrets are sacrosanct in Washington until officials find political expediency in either declassifying them or leaking them selectively. It doesn't really matter which modern presidential administration you decide to scrutinize for this behavior, as all of them are guilty. For instance, President George W. Bush's administration declassified or leaked whole barrels of intelligence, raw and otherwise, to convince the public and Congress making war on Iraq was a good idea. Bush himself ordered the release of classified prewar intelligence about Iraq through Vice President Dick Cheney and Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to New York Times reporter Judith Miller in July 2003.

Sometimes the index finger of government has no idea of what the thumb is up to. In 2007, Vice President Cheney went directly to Bush with his complaint about what he considered to be a damaging national security leak in a column by the Washington Post's David Ignatius. "Whoever is leaking information like this to the press is doing a real disservice, Mr. President," Cheney said. Later, Bush's national security adviser paid a visit to Cheney to explain that Bush, um, had authorized him to make the leak to Ignatius.

In 2010, NBC News reporter Michael Isikoff detailed similar secrecy machinations by the Obama administration, which leaked to Bob Woodward "a wealth of eye-popping details from a highly classified briefing" to President-elect Barack Obama two days after the November 2008 election. Among the disclosures to appear in Woodward's book Obama's Wars were, Isikoff wrote, "the code names of previously unknown NSA programs, the existence of a clandestine paramilitary army run by the CIA in Afghanistan, and details of a secret Chinese cyberpenetration of Obama and John McCain campaign computers."

The secrets shared with Woodward were so delicate Obama transition chief John Podesta was barred from attendance at the briefing, which was conducted inside a windowless, secure room known as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or "SCIF."

Isikoff asked, quite logically, how the Obama administration could pursue a double standard in which it prosecuted mid-level bureaucrats and military officers for their leaks to the press but allowed administration officials to dispense bigger secrets to Woodward. The best answer Isikoff could find came from John Rizzo, a former CIA general counsel, who surmised that prosecuting leaks to Woodward would be damn-near impossible to prosecute if the president or the CIA director authorized them.

There's more - go read the whole thing and come back. I'll be waiting.

*

Back to today's New York Times article:

"The report also said that in 2002, a publication, revealed later on Tuesday to be The New York Times, agreed to withhold information about a secret prison in Thailand at the urging of the agency and Vice President Dick Cheney."

I think we can all agree now that that was a bad call. But maybe a close call. It gets a lot worse.

The details in the report speak to tensions inside the government over the intelligence community's dealings with the media. In some cases, the agency authorized the disclosure of classified information to journalists. Yet, in recent years, the government has investigated reporters and officials, including prosecuting a C.I.A. officer for leaking details of the torture program.

In 2005, an e-mail from staff lawyers for the Counterterrorism Center at the agency "urged that C.I.A. leadership needed to 'confront the inconsistency' between C.I.A. court declarations 'about how critical it is to keep this information secret' and the C.I.A. 'planning to reveal darn near the entire program.' "

The report notes specific instances in which there were divisions within the intelligence community over the agency's decision to leak classified material on its interrogation of alleged members of al-Qaeda, particularly the detainee Abu Zubaydah.

When the agency worked with reporters - like Tom Brokaw, who produced a segment for NBC News, and the author Ronald Kessler for his book The C.I.A. at War - it never filed a "crimes report" over the leaking of classified material, the report notes.

Of course not. If you are a spook shilling for the administration - any administration - Tom Brokaw (and his successor and peers) is your friend.

*

Unfortunately, this next example is all-too-common - I've long wanted to FOIA interview requests of Rahm Emanuel (and, previously, Richard M. Daley) from reporters to see how they propose in advance to shape the result to the mayor's liking in order to land a fake exclusive. (Feel free to steal that idea, anyone out there.) You thought the Chicagoland e-mails were bad?

The report says that in 2005 the C.I.A. decided to cooperate with a Times reporter, Douglas Jehl, as he reported on the treatment of Abu Zubaydah. An agency official, who was not named in the report, concluded that Mr. Jehl's article was "not necessarily an unflattering story."

Mr. Jehl, who is now the foreign editor of The Washington Post, "provided the C.I.A. with a detailed outline of his proposed story, informed the C.I.A. that he would emphasize that the C.I.A.'s enhanced interrogation techniques worked," the report said.

Curiously, the Times cuts short what Jehl actually promised, which is far worse, as you can see for yourself here.

The Times then let Jehl off the hook by allowing him to respond with a disingenuous e-mail.

In an e-mail, Mr. Jehl said he had "worked aggressively to pursue and publish stories about the C.I.A.'s harsh interrogation of terrorist suspects, at a time when those details remained highly classified." He is proud of that work, he said, but was not interviewed by the Senate panel "and would never comment on reporting that was based on confidential conversations with current and former U.S. government officials."

Guess what? Jehl was never interviewed by the Times either - nor were his editors.

It also turns out that Jehl's e-mail to the Times was really just a statement put out by the Post's PR department.

And proud of his work? Like I said, they never learn.

*

If I'm the editor of the Washington Post, I'm hauling Jehl into my office for a little talk. And most likely firing him.

*

Shades of the Tribune Company's Ken Dilanian.

*

Back to the Times:

"For his part, Mr. Kessler defended his book and said that he had corroborated what he was told with the F.B.I.

"This report is discredited," he said, adding that it was written only by Democratic lawmakers and did not include interviews with many of the main players.

Does the New York Times read its own paper?

This, by the way, also rebuts the same claim made by the discredited Jose Rodriguez in an Op-Ed published by the Tribune.

*

Back to the Times:

The Senate report also highlighted an incident in which the C.I.A. pressured an American newspaper to withhold naming the country that Abu Zubaydah was being held in. The agency was concerned that the report would damage the United States' ability to recruit other countries to host secret prisons.

Is that a good reason to withhold naming the country? The media's job isn't to make sure it doesn't hinder the government's ability to maintain (torturous) secret prisons. In fact, the media's responsibility in that case goes beyond America. So call it a global fail.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of The Times, defended the paper's decision to delay publication of the information.

"There have been a handful of occasions when The Times has decided to hold back on publishing a given story after a compelling case had been made that immediate publication could potentially lead to a risk of life or other serious consequence," he said. "The intention is always to publish as soon as we feel we responsibly can, as we did in this case."

In this case, the Times endangered lives - if not enabled actual murder, depending on what happened in that prison.

A Times reporter, James Risen, said Tuesday that the newspaper was The Times, and the country was Thailand.

Sulzberger still wouldn't say? It took Risen to find out?

*

James Risen, hero. At least we still have a few in my profession.

-

The Beachwood Tip Line: Leak selectively.



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Posted on December 11, 2014


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