Hatfill and Wen Ho Lee and Plame and al-Awlaki and Assange

Last night I appeared on a panel on the Scooter Libby case. It was Judge Reggie Walton, Peter Zeidenberg, Alexandra Walsh from the Libby team, Lee Levine (who represented Andrea Mitchell and Tim Russert), Walter Pincus and I.

The panel itself was good. My high point came after Walsh had explained why the Defense had argued that bloggers might embarrass the nice people who had written leniency letters for Libby. I said, “well I was flattered we were considered such a threat. But there were at least three people who submitted letters who were implicated in the case. And I was shocked that I was one of only two or three people who demonstrated the many conflicts of those who wrote letters.”

But I also had several weird moments when we were talking about reporter’s privilege, when I was acutely aware that I was sitting between Judge Walton–who had forced journalists to reveal who had blamed Steven Hatfill for the anthrax case [see Jim White’s post for an update on the anthrax case]–and Walter Pincus–who said he had had eight or nine sources for his stories implicating Wen Ho Lee in security leaks. Walton made the very good point that if he hadn’t held AP reporter Toni Locy in contempt, then Hatfill might not have gotten the huge settlement he did for having had DOJ ruin his life. Walton’s comment suggested he had had to choose between reporter’s privilege or government impunity for attacking one of its citizens.

The collection of people sitting there had all touched on three major cases recently where the government had ruined civil servant’s lives and then hid behind reporter’s privilege to try to get away with it.

I had that in mind when I read this Jay Rosen piece, in which he suggests the behavior best incarnated by the Judy Miller-Michael Gordon aluminum tubes story created the need for Wikileaks.

The aluminum tube story, Rosen suggests, marks the moment when top journalists came to see their role as simply repeating what the government said.

This was the nadir. This was when the watchdog press fell completely apart: On that Sunday when Bush Administration officials peddling bad information anonymously put the imprimatur of the New York Times on a story that allowed other Bush Administration officials to dissemble about the tubes and manipulate fears of a nuclear nightmare on television, even as they knew they were going to war anyway.

The government had closed circle on the press, laundering its own manipulated intelligence through the by-lines of two experienced reporters, smuggling the deed past layers of editors, and then marching it like a trained dog onto the Sunday talk shows to perform in a lurid doomsday act.

Rosen argues that the NYT was not only on the wrong side of the facts with that story, but also on the wrong side of secrecy.

But it has never been recognized that secrecy was itself a bad actor in the events that led to the collapse, that it did a lot of damage, and that parts of it might have to go. Our press has never come to terms with the ways in which it got itself on the wrong side of secrecy as the national security state swelled in size after September 11th. (I develop this point in a fuller way in my 14-min video, here.)

The failures of skepticism back then, Rosen argues, creates the need or opportunity for Julian Assange today.

Radical doubt, which is basic to understanding what drives Julian Assange, was impermissible then. One of the consequences of that is the appeal of radical transparency today

Now, I think Rosen actually misses a key step here: from where the press sees itself as the neutral conduit of what the government is thinking, to where the press thinks its leaks from the government can stand-in for due process in the Anwar al-Awlaki case, and from there to Assange. Recall how Dana Temple-Raston, a very good national security journalist, lectured Glenn Greenwald about how the leaks she had received justified the government’s targeting of al-Awlaki.

Glenn Greenwald on his exchange with NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston:

At roughly 53:00, the Q-and-A session with the audience began, and the first questioner was NPR’s national security reporter Dina Temple-Raston, whose Awlaki reporting I had criticized just a couple days earlier for uncritically repeating claims told to her by anonymous Pentagon officials. She directed her rather critical multi-part question to me, claiming, among other things, that she had seen evidence of Awlaki’s guilt as a Terrorist (which she had not previously reported or described in any detail), and that led to a rather contentious — and, in my view, quite revealing — exchange about the role of journalists and how Awlaki can and should be punished if he is, in fact, guilty of any actual crime.

It’s really an amazing exchange — Temple-Raston snaps at Greenwald, asking him, “Isn’t it possible that I’ve seen something you haven’t seen?” When asked about the evidence of al-Awlaki’s operational role in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, she smugly tells him that “he doesn’t do national security for a living.”

Temple-Raston is a good reporter, and hardly ignorant of the civil-liberties side of the national-security equation. I have no doubt that government officials have shown her evidence of al-Awlaki having an operational role in AQAP. But that’s really beside the point when we’re discussing whether or not the government has the authority to kill an American citizen without due process based on secret evidence. So it’s interesting to me that she felt obligated to back Greenwald down, since that suggests the kind of analytical conclusion “objective” reporters aren’t supposed to make: Al-Awlaki is guilty therefore targeting him is ok.

The story of al-Awlaki’s targeting started when senior government officials repeatedly and very deliberately leaked to reporters that the Yemeni-American had been targeted, first by JSOC and then by CIA. Yet when his father sued to find out whether he had been targeted appropriately, the government sortof kindof invoked state secrets, allowing the judge in the case to sortof kindof say state secrets would apply but he didn’t need that to dismiss the suit. Meanwhile, Temple-Raston argues her access to secrets–because she “does national security for a living”–gives her adequate knowledge to certify the government’s assassination order against al-Awlaki. Whereas before, journalists were used as a star chamber to condemn Hatfill and Lee and Plame to lose their livelihoods, they’re now serving as the government’s star chamber to condemn an American citizen to death.

And we come full circle with Assange. Now, many (not all) journalists are condemning someone who has committed the “crime” of facilitating the publication of unfiltered news. In this odd new economy, it’s the relationship built on secrets that seems to be defended, not the First Amendment (and certainly not the Fifth).

Rosen seems optimistic Wikileaks will make some difference here. Me? I’m still skeptical that the Bill of Rights will win out over the culture of secrecy.

62 replies
  1. BayStateLibrul says:

    How many politicians, journalist, and commentators have used and misused the word “tranparency” ad nauseum?
    Wikileaks is the torchbearer in transparency, a life line to investigative
    “As long as you hear the music that Wikileaks is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance”
    (paraphrased from a quote by Charles Prince of Citigroup)

  2. fatster says:

    Did anyone live blog the panel discussions, EW? I hope so, particularly given your intriguing synopsis of it. Good goin’!

    And here’re these:

    Assange lawyer says US spying indictment imminent LINK.

    State torture of citizens ‘endemic’ worldwide: report
    “It said that anti-terror legislation passed in many countries had provided a cover “for the upsurge in the use of torture,” . . .. It also denounced the euphemisms adopted by certain states to describe torture, noting that the term “waterboarding” was used by the United States to hide the reality of a horrific act.”

    • bobschacht says:

      Ah, yes. See the example we are setting. We are no longer the city on the hill that everyone wants idolizes, but we are rapidly becoming the slum on the wrong side of the tracks, who are emulated in the worst ways.

      Lo, how the mighty have fallen.

      Bob in AZ

  3. pdaly says:

    Last night I appeared on a panel on the Scooter Libby case.

    Good to hear. Who was your audience? Is it too much to hope it was Obama?, the Senate? budding journalists?

  4. klynn says:

    You make some great points EW. These are points which need to be put in front of shortride. I wonder how often he was the “source” of anon leaks to the press?

    “Why we need Wikileaks?” is a fair question after what our country has been through due to 16 words.

  5. dustbunny44 says:

    I’m just sitting here contemplating the supreme irony of “journalists are condemning someone who has committed the “crime” of facilitating the publication of unfiltered news.” I mean, that’s supposed to be their job. At worst they should be pissed off that they were scooped.
    Contemplating that and the thought that a journalist believes she knows the whole picture (or any picture) because she’s been told a few secret things, especially by people with an agenda to push. I think the next version of the DSM calls it “judy miller schizophrenia”.

  6. R.H. Green says:

    With regard to Temple-Reston’s claim that she “does” national security, much depends on what she means by “does”. And whether the Bill of rights prevails over the culture of secrecy, may depend on just such doing. I think it was Jefferson that thought of the American democracy as an experiment; that to succede would depend on the ability of the public to know what the govenment does, an ability dependent upon the functioning of a free press.

    I read with interest today’s article from Greenwald that you cited. He quoted the Times’s Michael Gordon, who declared the job of a journaist to be to capture the dominant views of the government. (I think this is a too-narrow view for all of jounalism, but I can accept that such may be his particular assignment.) But he is only partly right in this assertion. Capturing what the government’s view is, is of course essential, yet the job of the journalist is to report the FACT that such is the government’s view. Even the word “view ” is open to interpretation; it can mean that the goverment belives in a certain view, and operates accordingly, or it can mean that the goverment’s officials assert a certain view that it wishes to be belived by the public; it is the journalists job to distinguish between the two usages. That the goverment holds a certain view is a truth, but that is not the same as asserting that the view itself is true. The story on the aluminum tubes is a case in point.

    I share your concern as to the potency of the culture of secrecy, given the failures of the press, even its complicity in that culture.

    • klynn says:

      What is missing in the understanding of government is the reality that accompanies “of, by and for” the people. Temple-Reston’s view is off-balance by failing to remember “that people bit” in the definition of government.

    • bobschacht says:

      I share your concern as to the potency of the culture of secrecy, given the failures of the press, even its complicity in that culture.

      Yes, this is the seductive kool-aid. “If only you knew what I know, you’d agree with me.” But then, of course, in order to know what I know, you have to be admitted to The Club. And to do that, you have to buy into the culture of secrecy.

      Bob in AZ

    • MaryCh says:

      I dunno if I’d agree. Ms. Temple-Raston sounds more like a Serious Journalist, Taking Seriously Her Serious Journalistic Duty, as so nicely displayed in Mr. Sherer’s snippet in Mary’s comment #14.

      After seeing journalists like Ms. Miller get played by sources opaquely spinning for the agency, why don’t Ms. T-R and the rest of the gaggle (heh) demonstrate, even implicitly, some skepticism? [Unfortunately, I think I know the answer, courtesy of Mr. Black: No Turkee]

    • sona says:

      it’s really irrelevant how smug tr is in her belief that she is privy to ‘secrets’ – she wasn’t being paid to be privy to ‘secrets’ while masquerading as a journalist – history will remember assange but doubt that memory of tr will survive beyond her great grandchildren

  7. fatster says:

    O/T Shame from a previous era.

    AP: US report adds details on Cold War Nazi intel
    APNewsBreak: Report reveals details on US intel use of Nazi Gestapo, Ukrainian fascists


  8. Arbusto says:

    Modern journalism standards are set by Tim Russert and Judith Miller’s butt-puppet style of investigations and interviewing, though they were not the first. The advantage is multi faceted. Shorter work day, allowing more partying with subjects of their articles/interviews, less stress, fewer enemies, more interviews with insiders pre-digested talking points and big salaries and perks. It’s a high standard, yet so many are doing well by it.

    • Mary says:

      And yet – the US gov has just collected a few hundred million in payoffs for actions done by Italian and Dutch and French companies in Nigeria. Granted – it was with the intent of trying to derail Nigeria from doing anything, but still.

      • BillyP says:

        There is concern that Holder will go to extreme means to silence Assange and shut down WikiLeaks, including the murder of Assange.

    • sona says:

      there are too many who are convinced that the USA does not abide by laws whether domestic when it comes to within US borders or international beyond its borders – it just makes them up and resorts to orwellian destruction of language itself

      wikileaks revelations did far less harm to the US than its political elite’s response and that latter will take more than an obviously intelligent and articulate black potus to rehabilitate

  9. Mary says:

    Good thought provoker, EW.

    I think the Aluminum Tubes is where I actually forced myself to go beyond a couple of horse related websites and use the internet more to try to find out more information. IIRC, what was so egregious about it was that all kinds of weapons experts – real blood and guts, high profile, huge resume, experts – were contemporaneously saying that the gov position was complete and utter nonsense and were saying it publically. The difference was that the noise machine gave them no noise and gave the liars CIA analysts’ input all the noise.

    And those two analysts got promotions for sending 18 yo Americans to die and have their limbs blown off and sent grandmothers to war as the military flagged in its recruitments and sent Iraqi children to their deaths and created two million refugees. Promotions. Under Obama they’ve probably inherited the DOI’s hookers and cocaine too.

    Sitting safe, spitting out any info Cheney wanted, and sleeping like the babies they helped kill – and getting promotions to boot. Lovely.

    So, does Temple-Raston explain while Assange is a criminal for leaking info that the govt doesn’t want leaked, but she’s a frickin hero for laundering info that the gov does want leaked? Has she read the National Security Act and what’s her take on the violations under that act of a member of the Exec branch leaking to her, for laundering, domestic propaganda about classified info? Isn’t it a crime?

    The bigger problem is that with failure after failure from the national press – where they were taken over and over and where they used there self-interested and biased values over and over, what is the reason she offers up as to why anyone should trust, not only her “sources” but her?

    I guess a nice question for Dina would be when was the last time she “broke” a story about secret government sources lying to her or others in the media and if she had that story, when did she out the sources who lied?

    Awhile back Scherer put up this post at The Swampland blog

    and in the comments he expanded on his view of his role as a journalist and it tracks with some of what you have been writing about lately.

    He bascially says that he should be the gatekeeper – that info should go to him and then he should get to make the personal decision, based on his personal values, as to what we are allowed to hear:

    I just find the high-moralizing of the wikileaks pr machine to be false. The proper journalistic response to leaked documents is to weigh the value of the information against the harm that would be done if it was disclosed. Different reporters will come to different conclusions in good faith. What WikiLeaks has done, however, is to simply take an enormous mass of documents, declare it to be the next Pentagon Papers and put it out publicly, when the value of the information is far more dubious. It is false advertising to say it reveals the U.S. government to be working against its own citizens or ethical bounds, if this is not true. (In fact, to cry wolf does us a disservice. There is nothing in these documents, apparently, that approaches the outrages disclosed by the Church Commission in the 1970s, or even the viciousness of the harsh interrogation program under President Bush.) Whether the release causes unnecessary harm is another question, which has not been answered yet, though the signs are so far pretty good

    emph added

    For my part – I think the lies to the US citizens by the US military about the Yemen bombing exceeds ethical bounds – both in what they did and in the fact that they were disseminating lies about what they did; I think strong arming the Germans to not prosecute the torture of their citizen bc the US really really reeeeaaaaallllly wanted to torture him exceeds ethical bounds but my vote doesn’t count. It’s up to Scherer, bc goodness gosh, golly, if there’s one thing the mother of every soldier who has died or been maimed in Iraq knows, it’s that they can trust the media’s values.

    • nextstopchicago says:


      That’s it for me. Judith Miller pretending we want her to be “an independent intelligence analyst” when we really just want her to give the available range of educated thought on the question. It wasn’t just retired intelligence people and foreigners. Friggin’ Senator Durbin was saying he’d read the reports and saw no evidence of WMD. Judy, if the range of viewpoints you’re sampling doesn’t even include dissenting members of the Intelligence committee, then you’re not even a reporter, let alone an independent analyst.

  10. BillyP says:

    Ray McGovern on the failure of the media.

    “The Fourth Estate in his country has been captured by government and corporations, the military-industrial complex, the intelligence apparatus. Captive! So, there is no Fourth Estate.”

    McGovern said that WikiLeaks — or outlets like it — has the potential to make the world safer to the degree American people get exposed to this information, draw adult conclusions from it, and pressure the US government to change its policies.

  11. JohnLopresti says:

    I hope judge RW got a few smiles from the panel discussions.

    I found a charming 1979 cite from prof Vladeck this past week, concerning one part of adjudicating reporter shield issues.

    I think DoJ is looking to organize its balance of priorities in related matters. The appropriate person in the post*, open for application until next week, could be key, as both Conyers and Lamar Smith plan somewhat germane hearings in hjc, per blt, q.v., currently the top line article on that ALM site.
    *Linked article has vector to min quals page for the job advertised.

  12. ApacheTrout says:

    “Walton’s comment suggested he had had to choose between reporter’s privilege or government impunity for attacking one of its citizens.”

    When I read this, I turned to the question of “why does a president nominates a particular judge to the federal bench?” And I think the answer during the Bush and Obama administration is not the left/right ideology of the judge as we reflexively believe, but rather the judge’s temperament toward Authority. I strongly suspect that most, if not all, judges nominated under both administrations have a deep and abiding respect for Authority and quite readily dismiss challenges to Authority as threats to National Security, which now, quite remarkably, includes Foreign, Domestic, and Economic entities.

  13. DWBartoo says:

    Superb stuff, EW, absolutely …

    The willingness to accede to Executive demands for secrecy, is not, of course, limited to the fourth estate.

    From the judiciary to the “person on the street”, the assumption is almost always made that such demands are justified AND necessary …

    It may be that the average person does not or cannot truly understand the danger attendant to allowing the essentially unrestrained and and unexamined use of such power, but surely the legal profession must have more than a few practitioners, even including judges, who understand Jefferson’s suggestion that only two groups insist upon secrecy to cover their behavior, criminals and tyrants – or maybe not … and, if not, then larger questions of competence and conflict of interest must fairly be raised, just as those questions are applicable to journalists, editors, and publishers.

    The person on the street, too often ascribes legitimacy and justice to unquestioned secrecy simply because others, in positions of authority or those with the ability to shape public discourse through their actions, sanction or condone such secrecy.


  14. Bluetoe2 says:

    I wonder if any sophisticated hackers are considering launching cyber attacks on corrupt and complicit corporate media web sites?

  15. kafka says:

    Assange is just bringing to light the stuff our MSM whores won’t touch because it might put their precious “access” to the Important People at risk.

  16. sloopydrew says:

    Since there isn’t a story on the main page about Bill Clinton supporting and endorsing Obama’s hideous tax extensions, I’ll ask here: Why isn’t there a story on the main page about Bill Clinton supporting Obama’s hideous tax extensions? Does it go against this site’s narrative that Bill Clinton was a better President and that Hillary would have been so much more Liberal?

    Obama = Clinton.

    • EdwardTeller says:

      I must have missed the Clinton worship you’ve picked up. Some here think highly of him. Others, like myself, have openly despised him here for years and are still here. There’s a wide range of opinions in between. To me, he should be tried for not allowing the Iraqis to rebuild their public health infrastructure while he was president.

      • sloopydrew says:

        There are people who dislike him (myself, for example), but the meme seems to be how much better Bill was and how much better Hillary would have been. It’s ridiculous logic, as Bill was at least as Conservative as Barack and Hillary’s political views are also the same old, same old DLC crap. I can’t stand any of them, personally. None of them give a shit and Jane was right, it’s just Kabuki theater.

        • bmaz says:

          Well, my take is that the policies likely would not be all that much different with Clinton, but she would be one hell of a lot more competent than Obama has been about pursuing them without killing the Democratic party in the process. But Edward Teller is right, there are, and have always been, a wide range of view at greater FDL and there was never any institutional supporting of Clinton versus Obama, that is simply a false meme.

        • papau says:

          Wide range of views at FDL was noted – and here I disagree with you and with Jane, but agree with Bmaz “never any institutional supporting of Clinton”. Clinton’s proposals were “on the left” – he twice veto’d welfare reform, getting modifications up to the point that he had no leverage as enough Dems had joined the GOP that his 3rd veto would have been overturned. He fought for positions on the left and got something for the left, unlike Obama. Hillary’s foreign policy is indeed equal to Obama and neither is on the left here, but domestic policy is a center-left Hillary versus a right wing Obama. Both are not anti-corporations – as reflected in both being DLC – but there is a “wide range” on the DLC.

          “never any institutional supporting of Clinton” was personally known to me to be true during the primary as those in the executive offices told me so – they feared Hillary and supported Obama – pretending otherwise is just folks trying to justify their primary vote, IMO. Currently Hillary appears not ready to have the “professional left” rip her apart unfairly again, and will not run. So I agree with Jane that Hillary in a primary in 2012 is just pretend that some folks like to wish for.

    • nonpartisanliberal says:

      Maybe it is because no one gives a shit what Clinton has to say about it. So far from worshiping Clinton, he’s seen as a partisan hack who is married to Obama’s odious Secretary of State.

  17. ThingsComeUndone says:

    Temple-Raston is a good reporter, and hardly ignorant of the civil-liberties side of the national-security equation. I have no doubt that government officials have shown her evidence of al-Awlaki having an operational role in AQAP. But that’s really beside the point when we’re discussing whether or not the government has the authority to kill an American citizen

    My bold after judy Miller one reporter saying trust me I might have seen secret government evidence doesn’t work anymore.
    The government can fake evidence and reporters don’t have the expertise to figure out there were no WMD, Global Warming is real, Tax Cuts during wartime kill the economy.
    If a reporter is convinced by secret evidence then either we the people see the evidence or the reporter can’t run the story.
    Why the press has lost our confidence to double check facts.

  18. lsls says:

    “this site’s narrative that Bill Clinton was a better President and that Hillary would have been so much more Liberal?”


  19. mgdub says:

    EW: What Shoto said. Link, video, audio, Bueller, Bueller.

    You have done amazing work over the years and are one of the best on the intertoobs. Keep up the good work.

    Thanks for all your efforts.

  20. nonpartisanliberal says:

    The same people who defended Scooter Libby and had no problems with Robert Novak’s disclosure that destroyed a CIA operation to monitor nuclear weapons are today condemning Bradley Manning and wanting to assassinate Julian Assange.

    We should never expect ethics or moral consistency from sociopaths and tyrants.

  21. Jeff Kaye says:

    Great analysis. Wikileaks and Assange are treading on their monopoly to “leak” information, i.e., to place confidential information where they feel it can do best (buy reporters, spin policy decisions). Wikileaks gave us the whole tamale, and then the government wasn’t in control. They don’t like that at all. They decide, we suffer.

  22. wayoutwest says:

    Slick Willie is doing such a great job in Haiti that he is trying to sell that same plan here in Amerika. Were all going to be eating mud pies if we believe him.

  23. papau says:

    EW – Our espionage act is in the process under Bush/Obama of becoming an “official secrets act” – something the first amendment was supposed to prevent, I thought.

    I do not understand how this is happening, but then I do not understand why the error in the 19th century case on the recording of the USSC approved definition of corporate rights, once discovered, was not reversed but instead became “settled law”.

  24. TheOracle says:

    Sounds like a great panel discussion.

    I would have loved to have been on it and asked Alexandra Walsh if Scooter Libby’s defense team ever considered using the CIA’s after-incident damage-assessment report in defense of Libby, no harm-no foul, that no national security damage occurred after Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA cover was blown, and her overseas contacts were compromised, ones she had cultivated over twenty years as a covert, non-official-cover CIA agent and officer.

    It would have been interesting to hear Walsh’s response, claiming ignorance of any such CIA report, or otherwise.

    Someday I hope this missing CIA report is leaked, although I figure by now that all copies disseminated to top Bush administration officials, as well as the original, have been destroyed, since these officials were all involved in blowing Valerie Plame Wilson’s cover in one way or another, either initiating it, leaking her covert CIA identity to the press, or obstructing after the fact.

  25. frankiet1 says:

    Dina Temple-Raston…a very good national security journalist?

    I’d love to read more about your definition of “good” here.

    One thing is sure: she’s a popular item (read: a fav and deserving target) on the excellent NPRcheck blog.

  26. fatster says:

    Fascinating article by McClatchy exploring some of the legal issues swirling around Assange-Wikileaks. Sure hope some of you lawyers will read and comment so that the rest of us can have a better understanding of this. Thnx!

    WikiLeaks: Tying Assange to Manning won’t be easy


    • bmaz says:

      Yeah, I basically agree with the problems noted in Yousef’s article as to ability to effectively prosecute and that is a fair part of what I likely will go into a little later.

      • fatster says:

        ” . . . what I likely will go into a little later.” Hot dog! Wonderful news, bmaz. I certainly am looking forward to that.

  27. jdmckay0 says:

    Mary @ 14:

    does Temple-Raston explain while Assange is a criminal for leaking info that the govt doesn’t want leaked, but she’s a frickin hero for laundering info that the gov does want leaked?


    Or more generally, why Assange is a “traitor” for publishing, ver batem, gov’s own words (eg: the trooth), while BushCo (and now BO) basically lied about everything they knew, and made up stuff to fill in the gaps.

    Talk about moral hazard…

  28. fatster says:

    Mukasey: Prosecute Assange because it’s ‘easier’ than prosecuting New York Times


    And it’s a hell of a lot easier than prosecuting oh, say, Dick “Dick”.

    • fatster says:

      Yes. From the University of VA Jefferson Collection under the category “Abuses by a Free Press”:

      “Advertisements… contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper.” –Thomas Jefferson to Nathaniel Macon, 1819. ME 15:179


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