Bill Keller Blames Leak Arrests that Preceded WikiLeaks on WikiLeaks

Bill Keller has another narcissistic column attacking Julian Assange. The whole thing is rubbish not worth your time, but I did want to unpack the complaint with which Keller ends his column.

“A lot of attention has been focused on WikiLeaks and its colorful proprietors,” Aftergood told me. “But the real action, it turns out, is not at the publisher level; it’s at the source level. And there aren’t a lot of sources as prolific or as reckless as Bradley Manning allegedly was.”

For good reason. The Obama administration has been much more aggressive than its predecessors in pursuing and punishing leakers. The latest case, the arrest last month of John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. terrorist-hunter accused of telling journalists the names of colleagues who participated in the waterboarding of Qaeda suspects, is symptomatic of the crackdown. It is this administration’s sixth criminal case against an official for confiding to the media, more than all previous presidents combined. The message is chilling for those entrusted with keeping legitimate secrets and for whistleblowers or officials who want the public to understand how our national security is or is not protected.

Here’s the paradox the documentaries have overlooked so far: The most palpable legacy of the WikiLeaks campaign for transparency is that the U.S. government is more secretive than ever. [my emphasis]

The Obama Administration has charged 6 people with some kind of espionage charge for leaking:

  • Thomas Drake was indicted on April 10, 2010, just days after the release of the Collateral Murder video and before Bradley Manning first contacted Adrian Lamo; he was charged for purported leaks going back to February 2006
  • Shamai Leibowitz was first investigated in mid-2009, before Manning leaked anything to WikiLeaks; he was charged on December 4, 2009 and sentenced on May 24, 2010, the day the government was first learning about Lamo’s conversations with Manning
  • Stephen Jin-Woo Kim was indicted on August 19, 2010, around the time DOD first started trying to figure out what Manning allegedly sent to WikiLeaks; he is alleged to have leaked in June 2009
  • Manning was arrested on May 29, 2010 and will be formally charged this week for leaks allegedly starting in November 2009
  • Jeffrey Sterling was indicted on December 22, 2010, around the time the government was trying to pressure Manning into testifying about Assange; his leaks allegedly started in 2001
  • John Kiriakou was charged on January 23, 2012 for leaks dating back to 2007

All the non-WikiLeaks leaks allegedly took place before Manning’s. All were formally charged before Manning, and all but two men were arrested before Manning.

And yet Bill Keller, in a demonstration of his typical reporting skill though not Newtonian physics, suggests that WikiLeaks caused the crackdown on leaks.

WikiLeaks can’t be the reason the government has cracked down so harshly, because most of the crackdown preceded the key WikiLeaks publications.

Perhaps Keller is just looking for some easy explanation for why Kiriakou got busted. As I have shown, the most logical way to establish the case against Kiriakou (short of the now legal acquisition of journalist call records using NSLs) was through the NYT article reporting Deuce Martinez’ role in interrogating Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. And while Kiriakou’s recklessness–as a CIA guy who leaked a covert officer’s identity through apparently unencrypted email–rivals Manning’s, security expert Chris Soghoian has pointed out how shoddy (and far inferior to WikiLeaks’) the NYT’s own security is.

The government is prosecuting leaks at a degree unheard of–and has been since before WikiLeaks. It is using new interpretations that strip journalists of the privacy expectations they once had. But along with that, journalists have taken a while to adjust to the new intrusiveness.

The government deserves most of the blame for it. But the NYT seems to deserve more of the blame for shoddy security than WikiLeaks does.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

20 replies
  1. jerryy says:

    Well Mr. Keller does have good reason to claim that publishing leaks leads to crackdowns (before the fact as you helpfully point out)… after all he sat on a whopper of a leak that may have changed an election’s outcome and did not get prosecuted one little bit.

    Or his confusion with cause and effect may be from this being 2012 and he is worried about those Mayan zombies that weill soon be roaming the countryside.

  2. dakine01 says:

    Too bad Keller wasn’t as concerned about leaks when he was the NY Times editor and Judy Miller was playing Leak Stenographer for BushCo in the run-up to the Irak invasion

  3. P J Evans says:

    Maybe Keller is just pissed because Wikileaks didn’t give him exclusive publication of their documents. After all, he’s so important to the world of journamalism. /s

  4. MadDog says:

    If we were to believe Bill Keller, nothing in the world happens unless the NYT says so.

    And as I’ve never been mentioned in the NYT, I’m guessing I don’t really exist.

  5. JohnLopresti says:

    I liked the reference to Sir Isaac Newton, whose inertial systems require an interesting sort of time-constrained n-dimensional mathematics. Newtonian physics manages to be a much less hackneyed expression than the usual disclaimers about ‘rocket science’. Maybe only some folks imagine music of the spheres when contemplating Newtonian transforms; however, for me, they elicit an aura of godliness and some kind of intellectual integrity. I am told by a chess master that actually kids are the most genius chess players, and people who somehow manage to keep their freshness of insight as adults. Keller has done a lot worthwhile; and has shown fairly prescient sensibilities as a reader Of TeaLeaves, political. Not to wax too laudatory in the current difficult matter.

  6. joanneleon says:

    That’s exactly the point I brought up to J when I was reading that PoS Keller column to him this morning. He really should retire before he ruins what is left of his reputation due to his obsession with Julian Assange.

    A couple other things blew me away about that article. One — the mention of the 27 course meal. What was the point of that? Was he boasting that he and other journalists went to the after-panel dinner and Assange, the not-a-supernewsman-like-me, did not? Or was he trying to say that the only reason he stooped to the level of appearing on another Assange panel was for the dinner afterwards?

    The second thing was the fact that he felt the need to ridicule the autobiography that Assange ended up not authorizing. He sniveled about how it was ranked 1,288,313 on Amazon. Gawker pointed out that Keller’s NYTimes e-book on Wikileaks (first ever e-book by NYTimes) is ranked at 2,539,087. Ha! Assange rents so much space in this guy’s head that he can’t even think clearly and never thought about that inconvenient fact, I guess. He was probably too busy sticking pins in his voodoo doll.

  7. P J Evans says:

    the mention of the 27 course meal

    He’s counting every dish as a course, I guess. Because the most formal dinners I’ve read about were only 12 courses (and you can find menus for them in cookbooks).

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Only the dementia-laden Keller could come up with the logic that WikiLeak’s publications have led to greater US Government secrecy and not the reverse.

    Bill Keller is so bad that he is beginning to make the execrable David Brooks look promising, a feat I once thought impossible. He demonstrates, however, that the Times is determined to publish all the news the US Government considers fit to print.

  9. MadDog says:

    Totally OT – Bibi is apparently not happy with the Obama Administration. I know, I know. What else is new? Via Haaretz:

    “Israel to U.S.: Disagreement over attack on nuclear sites serves Iranian interests

    Netanyahu, Barak, senior officials make their displeasure known to national security adviser during visit to Israel…

    …A senior Israeli official said Netanyahu and Barak told Donilon of their dissatisfaction with the interview given by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, to CNN on Sunday…

    …The Israeli officials also objected to a number of briefings senior American officials gave American correspondents, who wrote in recent weeks about a possible Israeli attack in Iran.

    The story that angered Netanyahu most was an NBC broadcast two weeks ago saying Israel would attack Iran’s nuclear facilities with Jericho missiles, commando forces and F-151 jets…”

  10. orionATL says:

    this is all one needs to know about bill keller, about his (hidden) politics, and about where his heart, if he has one, lies:

    ‘… Early life

    Keller is the son of former chairman and chief executive of the Chevron Corporation, George M. Keller.[2] Bill Keller attended the Roman Catholic schools St. Matthews and Junípero Serra High School in San Mateo, California. After graduating from Pomona College in 1970, where he began his journalistic career as a reporter for the campus newspaper called The Collegian (later called The Collage), he was a reporter in Portland with The Oregonian, the Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, and at The Dallas Times Herald…”


    maybe keller’s using his nytimes status as the resident let-out-to-pasture-executive opinion columnist to promote his vendetta against assange was related to this bit of rolling stone reporting by michael hastings, a real reporter, unlike the faux reporters keller favored:


    “… Keller was trying to save his own skin from the espionage investigation in two ways. First, on a legal technicality, by claiming that there was no collaboration, only a passive relationship between journalist and source. And second, by distancing themselves from us by attacking me personally, using all the standard tabloid character-assassination attacks. Many journalists at the Times have approached me to say how embarrassed they were at the lowering of the tone by doing that. Keller also came out and said how pleased the White House was with them that they had not run WikiLeaks material the White House had asked them not to. It is one thing to do that, and it’s another thing to proudly proclaim it. Why did Keller feel the need to tell the world how pleased the White House was with him? For the same reason he felt the need to describe how dirty my socks were. It is not to convey the facts – rather, it is to convey a political alignment. You heard this explicitly: Keller said, “Julian Assange may or may not be a journalist, but he’s not my kind of journalist.” My immediate reaction is, “Thank God I’m not Bill Keller’s type of journalist.”…”

    did that smart, dumb bill?

  11. Benjamin Franklin says:

    Keller has one thing right. All this is a concerted effort to create a chilling effect on leakers.

    No safe-house for you, sucker…

  12. Bob Schacht says:

    I’m interested in the comment by bmaz upthread, which I cannot find, to the effect that Wikileaks is done. I’ve been wondering about this for a while. The whole Wikileaks thing is kind of like cyber war. One front is in public, as in the arrest and trial of Bradley Manning. But I’m sure they have a crack team of hackers searching every Wikileaks communication. Even if Bradley Manning was not that important, and Julian Assange is out of reach, that does not exclude the possibility of a cyberwar being launched against Wikileaks. Of course, Wikileaks would itself “take steps,” one of which would be to be extra careful, including refraining from communicating, or reducing the number of people they communicate with, etc. In other words, is the reduced traffic from Wikileaks a matter of active government suppression, or voluntary “laying low” until things blow over?

    Bob in AZ

  13. Benjamin Franklin says:

    @Bob Schacht:

    is the reduced traffic from Wikileaks a matter of active government suppression, or voluntary “laying low” until things blow over?

    The futility of the CIA hack makes sense only if A.) There is no central command, and ‘anonymous’ is operating in cells, comprised of rag-tag anarchists whose ultimate goal is chaos, or B.) The chilling effect on leaks makes small potatoes of the Grand Genesis of the movement, and thereby reduces the effort to a Potemkin.

  14. thatvisionthing says:

    Quick google search: “david finkel good soldiers new york times”

    Because I understand the Collateral Murder episode was described in its entirety in Finkel’s book The Good Soldiers before Wikileaks ever released the video.

  15. prostratedragon says:

    @P J Evans: Maybe he hit some fogbank where he thought he spent an evening here— which level of delusion would make him dangerous indeed, imo.

    (Read the thing years and years ago. Don’t recall how many courses, but easily way more than 12, all some variation on turducken. Truely an eleganza.)

  16. geoschmidt says:

    Did you mean it like this?: If you don’t get back by midnight, your coach will turn into a pumpkin…?

    A Potemkin pumpkin village…?

    We are totally in a potemkin, Disneyeske fake “Truman Show” environment, nowaday.

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