Margaret Sullivan

Drone Strikes on the NYT’s Claim to Have Improved

NYT Public Editor Margaret Sullivan attempts to tell the story of why the NYT held the illegal wiretap story before the 2004 election. Amid comments from the main players, she effectively admits that the NYT only published in 2005 because James Risen’s A State of War was about to come out.

Michael V. Hayden, who was the director of the N.S.A. and later the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told me in an interview that he argued strenuously against publication, right up until the moment when The Times decided to go ahead. His rationale: “That this effort was designed to intercept threatening communication” and to prevent another terrorist attack.

In the end, The Times published the story with a couple of guns held to its head: First, the knowledge that the information in the article was also contained in a book by Mr. Risen, “State of War,” whose publication date was bearing down like a freight train. Second, at the end, the word of a possible injunction against publishing, Mr. Risen said, provided a final push: “It was like a lightning bolt.” (Mr. Hayden said that would not have happened: “Prior restraint was never in the cards.”)

Like a game of chicken played on a high wire, it remains “the most stressful and traumatic time of my life,” Mr. Risen recalls. Although The Times later said that further reporting strengthened the story enough to justify publishing it, few doubt that Mr. Risen’s book was what took an essentially dead story and revived it in late 2005. “Jim’s book was the driving force,” Mr. Lichtblau said.

Sullivan doesn’t mention another part of the story: that shortly after the NYT accused Risen of violating their ethics policy because he did not tell the NYT his book covered topics he had reported on for the paper — not just the illegal wiretap program, but also MERLIN, the attempt to stall the Iranian nuclear program by dealing them faulty blueprints. He had apparently told them he was writing a book on George Tenet.

When that news broke in early 2006, I concluded that Risen probably used the threat of scooping the NYT, and a nondisclosure agreement, to actually get the illegal wiretap program into the paper.

Let’s assume for a moment I’m correct in understanding the NYT spokesperson to be suggesting that Risen violated those ethical guidelines by publishing this book. Here’s the scenario such an accusation seems to spell out. (Speculation alert.) Risen attempted to publish both the NSA wiretap story and the Iran nuclear bomb story in 2004. NYT editors refused both stories. Then, in 2005 Risen takes book leave (and I should say that the NYT’s book leave policy is one of the best benefits it offers its writers), misleading his editors about the content of the book. Once he returns, his editors hear rumors that the book actually features the NSA wiretap story. Only in the face of imminent publication of the book do they reconsider publishing the wiretap story. Continue reading

Will NYT’s Ombud Encourage a NYT Pre-Sentencing Memo for Bradley Manning, Too?

When I first read Scott Shane’s long profile of John Kiriakou, I thought, “how interesting that the NYT is doing a piece that exposes the government’s double standards just in time for the sentencing of Kiriakou, one of their sources.”

That’s not to say I’m not glad to see the piece: the profile did more to raise the scandal of Kiriakou’s prosecution than just about anything short of a 60 Minutes piece might.

And I’m much less interested in Shane’s references to his own role in Kiriakou’s indictment

Mr. Kiriakou first stumbled into the public limelight by speaking out about waterboarding on television in 2007, quickly becoming a source for national security journalists, including this reporter, who turned up in Mr. Kiriakou’s indictment last year as Journalist B.

[snip]

After Mr. Kiriakou first appeared on ABC, talking with Brian Ross in some detail about waterboarding, many Washington reporters sought him out. I was among them. He was the first C.I.A. officer to speak about the procedure, considered a notorious torture method since the Inquisition but declared legal by the Justice Department in secret opinions that were later withdrawn.

Then I am by this passage.

In 2008, when I began working on an article about the interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, I asked him about an interrogator whose name I had heard: Deuce Martinez. He said that they had worked together to catch Abu Zubaydah, and that he would be a great source on Mr. Mohammed, the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks.

He was able to dig up the business card Mr. Martinez had given him with contact information at Mitchell Jessen and Associates, the C.I.A. contractor that helped devise the interrogation program and Mr. Martinez’s new employer.

Mr. Martinez, an analyst by training, was retired and had never served under cover; that is, he had never posed as a diplomat or a businessman while overseas. He had placed his home address, his personal e-mail address, his job as an intelligence officer and other personal details on a public Web site for the use of students at his alma mater. Abu Zubaydah had been captured six years earlier, Mr. Mohammed five years earlier; their stories were far from secret. [my emphasis]

As I have mapped out before, the indictment strongly suggests that Kiriakou was Shane’s source for Martinez’ phone number, and with that suggestion, implies that Shane got Martinez’ identity from Kiriakou rather than one of the 23 other sources he had for the article.

With this passage, Shane rebuts what would have been a key point at trial (and may help Kiriakou in his sentencing). At least according to Shane, he not only learned of Martinez’ identity before he asked Kiriakou about it, but was able to find Martinez’ home address and email on an alumni network site. (Note, Shane doesn’t address whether Kiriakou was the source for the “magic box” technology discussed in the article, about which Kiriakou was also alleged to have lied to CIA’s Publication Review Board.)

In short, the whole article serves as a narrative pre-sentencing memo, offering a range of reasons why Kiriakou should get less than the 30 months his plea deal currently recommends.

Continue reading

Emptywheel Twitterverse
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