The NYT: Keeping it fair since 2001

By Lex

Posted on June 26, 2006


You know, in a “real” war, like the ones we fought against Germany and Japan during the last century, or even during the Cold War, the conflict was always being fought on at least two levels. At the top, and most visible level was the kinetic campaign – ground troops on the march, in trenches, or locked in mortal embraces and the great clash of fleets, both aerial and naval. But always, always operations were driven by intelligence: Shadow warriors prowling in darkened alleys, diplomatic dinners and locked offices, signals intelligence technicians casting broad electronic nets to capture waveform strands to weave into coherent wholes, long range reconnaissance photographs from patrol airplanes, from U-2 jets, from satellites. Huge teams of dedicated, driven men and women wove together all of these separate strands of reporting to create actionable intelligence on their adversary’s dispositions and intentions, his tactics, techniques and procedures. Because knowledge is power.

The problem is that the world wide Islamist jihad doesn’t have that kind of capability. Oh, sure, if you just want to flay the girl next door’s skin off her bones for not wearing a headscarf, murder local policemen, saw the neck of possible neighborhood ”collaborators,” or bust a few unaimed caps at any crusaders and Jews that happen to roll by, then, yeah: They’ve got that. And for offensive actions, how much intelligence does it take to, say, figure out peak hours to blow up bombs on subway trains? It’s when there’s people on them! Duh!

But getting the good stuff, the operational and strategic intelligence, that takes resources. Usually the resources of a modern nation state, and well, at least since the Taliban fell in 2001, the jihad has been rather short of those, and even when they had one, the Mullahs weren’t broadly known for their enthusiasm towards a domestic, space-based reconnaissance program. When those guys looked towards the heavens there were visions of sugarplums raisins dancing in their heads, not technology. And too, there’s only so many resources to ever go around, and you’ve got to save enough to blow up ancient Buddhist statues plus shoot the impious at the local soccer stadium.

Not to worry though, world-wide terrorist people! The New York Times editor-in-chief Bill Keller knows you don’t have the personnel or materiel resources to ferret out what your enemy is doing. And because he’s dedicated to keeping it fair, his paper has your back.

According to the NYT’s own reporting, the program is legal. The program is helping us catch terrorists. The administration has briefed the appropriate members of Congress. The program has built-in safeguards to prevent abuse. And yet, with nothing more than a vague appeal to the “public interest” (which apparently is not outweighed in this case by the public’s interest in apprehending terrorists), the NYT disregards all that and publishes intimate, classified details about the program. Keller and his team really do believe they are above the law. When it comes to national security, it isn’t the government that should decide when secrecy is essential to a program’s effectiveness. It is the New York Times.

Now, obviously the Gray Lady’s been taking some heat for this decision – I mean, there’s at least 40-50 per cent of the nation who believes we’re actually at war, and another 40 or 50 who don’t believe we are, but who want to bring the troops home anyway. And you could, if you were so disposed, come to the conclusion that the Times, by exposing what it admits is a perfectly legal exercise in overseas surveillance, is offering aid and comfort to the enemy.

That either does or does not exist, and if it does not exist, then bringing the troops home ASAP will stop this non-existent enemy from killing any more of them. Because the killing has to end at some point. Even though it isn’t actually real. Because if it were real, then the enemy would have uniforms and everything, and we’d be compelled to treat them in accordance with the Geneva Conventions instead as unlawful combattants, but let’s just let that go for now, because it’s not the point the Times’ editors are trying to make. It’s this:

It’s not our job to pass judgment on whether this program is legal or effective, but the story cites strong arguments from proponents that this is the case… we cited considerable evidence that the program helps catch and prosecute financers of terror, and we have not identified any serious abuses of privacy so far. A reasonable person, informed about this program, might well decide to applaud it. That said, we hesitate to preempt the role of legislators and courts, and ultimately the electorate, which cannot consider a program if they don’t know about it.

We weighed most heavily the Administration’s concern that describing this program would endanger it. The central argument we heard from officials at senior levels was that international bankers would stop cooperating, would resist, if this program saw the light of day. We don’t know what the banking consortium will do, but we found this argument puzzling.

So damn puzzling that they couldn’t figure it out. So they decided (along with others) to kick it out there in the sunlight, and see what the rest of us could make out of it. You and me and all those financiers of terror that haven’t yet been caught or prosecuted, and now are not going to because, hey: You want to get another Pulitzer make an omelete? You gotta break a few laws eggs.

So what if that re-routed money ends up carving out new smoking holes in New York or Washington, London or Madrid? So what if, terror being terror and doing what terror does – it can do no other – that money inevitably ends up costing tens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of innocent people their lives?

Sure, the program itself was legal. Sure, we all sort of expected that our government would be doing something like this, although we didn’t know the details. Sure, whoever leaked the details to the Times not only broke the law, but his or her own personal oath to the country that gave him birth and now pays his bills. Sure, the innocents who have to die are dying in the name of a monstrous cause.

Just don’t question Bill Keller’s motivations or patriotism. And don’t try to put the blood of the innocents at his door, when the time comes.

And if you do? Just try to prove that sh!t in a court of law, pal.

More here, and here. Shorter version of Keller’s “How much I agonized about it before helping the terrorist cause” letter here.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, GWOT, Media, Neptunus Lex, Politics, Politics and Culture

2 responses to “The NYT: Keeping it fair since 2001

  1. Pingback: That’ll fix it | The Lexicans

  2. Pingback: Swift victory? | The Lexicans

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