June 23rd, 2006


(no subject)

Exposing perfectly legal intelligence gathering is really stupid. But count on the New York Times to start this process, and the LA Times to keep up with the Joneses. No link supplied. I'm too angry at them.

Letter to the Editor, New York Times:

As far as I can tell, your position on things is this: we ought to be fighting terrorists by legal means, through proper intelligence and the courts. Of course, when it comes to proper intelligence, collected through legal channels, you will expose it on the grounds that people might have an interest, and tip off those who might be caught in this net not to do that. And when it comes to the courts, you will object that this is all "after the fact" and the attack should have been prevented in the first place by proper intelligence gathering.

I have a note for you: "freedom of the press" does not mean that if you own a press, no other laws apply to you. This might be a revolutionary idea to you, but for those of us who have to deal with the consequences of such feckless and irresponsible actions, it is increasingly clear that you not only do not serve the public interest, you oppose it.

UPDATE: In response to the emails, here's the link to relevant information about the story and its background. And here is a discussion of the law they have so cavalierly violated. Just as I don't buy products from Toshiba, I will no longer read or post links to the New York Times. There are other newspapers out there, and it has sunk so far from the days where it was a reasonably good newspaper that it is no longer worth my time: life is too short for this.

FINAL UPDATE: OK, the editor has responded. As it turns out, he can't understand the problem. If you subscribe, why are you listening to these guys? Isn't there another source for your news?

HILARIOUS LAST NOTE: As it turns out, The New York Times advocated the creation of the program in the first place. Power Line has the story. Finally (and I mean it this time) there is their real attitude, as opposed to their published one, on why they did it in the first place

That Tears It UPDATECheck out this note, and realize that the New York Times wouldn't have wanted these terrorists found. We considered it and rejected it indeed. And what qualifies you to do that?

The Even They Know Better Now Update: Quoting in Relevant Part:

While it’s a close call now, as it was then, I don’t think the article should have been published.

Those two factors are really what bring me to this corrective commentary: the apparent legality of the program in the United States, and the absence of any evidence that anyone’s private data had actually been misused. I had mentioned both as being part of “the most substantial argument against running the story,” but that reference was relegated to the bottom of my column.

The source of the data, as my column noted, was the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift. That Belgium-based consortium said it had honored administrative subpoenas from the American government because it has a subsidiary in this country.

I haven’t found any evidence in the intervening months that the surveillance program was illegal under United States laws. Although data-protection authorities in Europe have complained that the formerly secret program violated their rules on privacy, there have been no Times reports of legal action being taken. Data-protection rules are often stricter in Europe than in America, and have been a frequent source of friction.

Also, there still haven’t been any abuses of private data linked to the program, which apparently has continued to function. That, plus the legality issue, has left me wondering what harm actually was avoided when The Times and two other newspapers disclosed the program. The lack of appropriate oversight — to catch any abuses in the absence of media attention — was a key reason I originally supported publication. I think, however, that I gave it too much weight.

In addition, I became embarrassed by the how-secret-is-it issue, although that isn’t a cause of my altered conclusion. My original support for the article rested heavily on the fact that so many people already knew about the program that serious terrorists also must have been aware of it. But critical, and clever, readers were quick to point to a contradiction: the Times article and headline had both emphasized that a “secret” program was being exposed. (If one sentence down in the article had acknowledged that a number of people were probably aware of the program, both the newsroom and I would have been better able to address that wave of criticism.)

What kept me from seeing these matters more clearly earlier in what admittedly was a close call? I fear I allowed the vicious criticism of The Times by the Bush administration to trigger my instinctive affinity for the underdog and enduring faith in a free press — two traits that I warned readers about in my first column.

Now if he would just figure out the correct way to handle these situations, they wouldn't have to apologize.

That Tears It Update:The EU has closed down the program, saying that hunting for terrorists was not its purpose. Thanks, NYT. You've denied the US a useful tool in finding terrorists. Let's hope that the next preventable attack will be on your building, not someone who isn't responsible for such idiocy.
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