Unlike the Guardian, the NYT Told State Precisely What WikiLeaks Cables It Would Publish

The Guardian has now posted its version of the US government’s efforts last November to learn what cables WikiLeaks would publish, so I’d like compare the three versions to show what we know.

As I noted before, these negotiations started with the NYT giving the State Department a heads up. Following that heads up, offered on November 19, some reporters met with representatives of the foreign policy and national security and law enforcement establishment on Tuesday, November 23. Following that, the NYT appears to have provided the State Department with copies of every single cable they planned to release.

Because of the range of the material and the very nature of diplomacy, the embassy cables were bound to be more explosive than the War Logs. Dean Baquet, our Washington bureau chief, gave the White House an early warning on Nov. 19. The following Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, Baquet and two colleagues were invited to a windowless room at the State Department, where they encountered an unsmiling crowd. Representatives from the White House, the State Department, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the C.I.A., the Defense Intelligence Agency, the F.B.I. and the Pentagon gathered around a conference table. Others, who never identified themselves, lined the walls. A solitary note-taker tapped away on a computer.

The meeting was off the record, but it is fair to say the mood was tense. Scott Shane, one reporter who participated in the meeting, described “an undertone of suppressed outrage and frustration.”

Subsequent meetings, which soon gave way to daily conference calls, were more businesslike. Before each discussion, our Washington bureau sent over a batch of specific cables that we intended to use in the coming days. They were circulated to regional specialists, who funneled their reactions to a small group at State, who came to our daily conversations with a list of priorities and arguments to back them up. We relayed the government’s concerns, and our own decisions regarding them, to the other news outlets. [my emphasis]

Der Spiegel suggests that after that November 23 meeting, at the same time NYT was meeting in person with the State Department, it was also making phone calls to the other partners involved.

The New York Times negotiated with the White House, and there were meetings and telephone calls with the Guardian, Le Monde, El País and SPIEGEL. The US government had mustered a remarkable armada in its effort to appeal to the journalists. In addition to Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip Crowley and Clinton’s Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, it included representatives of the CIA, the Pentagon and the office of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper — a reflection of the combined national security expertise of the most powerful nation in the world.

In addition, Ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy met with the newspaper in person on November 25.

This was also the approach taken by Philip Murphy, the American ambassador in Berlin, when we met with him at the United States Embassy. It was Thanksgiving Day, and Murphy drove from his residence in the Dahlem neighborhood to the embassy on Pariser Platz in downtown Berlin. At home, his wife Tammy and their four children were waiting for him to return for their traditional turkey dinner. Murphy, a former investment banker and national finance chair of the Democratic National Committee, wasn’t wearing a suit that day. He donned a jacket, casual trousers and loafers. In addition to all of the foreign policy turmoil Julian Assange had created, he had also ruined Thanksgiving for the ambassador and his colleagues in Washington, an offence for which Murphy would never forgive him.

“I am mad about it, and I don’t blame our brethren in the German government if they are mad, too, that someone has downloaded these documents,” Murphy said. “I’m incredibly angry. I don’t begrudge SPIEGEL and the press, who are just doing their jobs. I am criticizing those who stole this material.”

The ambassador looked haggard. He coughed a lot and had to interrupt the conversation to get some water. Like so many American diplomats around the world, Murphy would have to explain to his foreign counterparts why the embassy’s internal assessments of German politicians were so much harsher than its public statements. This is a challenge for diplomats, whose job requires them to preserve as perfect a façade as possible.

But Der Spiegel doesn’t reveal whether it told State precisely what cables it would publish. Nor does it reveal whether it spoke with the State Department directly.

Compare that to the Guardian’s description, which reveals that under pressure from the US Embassy in London, Alan Rusbridger agreed to a conference call, which took place on November 26 (so after the NYT had started meeting daily with State and Murphy had met with Spiegel at their offices).

A few days before the cables’ release, two senior figures from the US embassy in Grosvenor Square called in to the Guardian’s London offices for a chat. This discussion led to a surreal transatlantic telephone call on Friday 26 November – two days before launch.

Alan Rusbridger agreed to ring Washington. He made the conference call from the circular table in his office. On the line was PJ Crowley, the US assistant secretary of state for public affairs.

The conversation began: “OK, here’s PJ Crowley. I just want you to know in this phone call we’ve got Secretary of State Clinton’s private secretary, we have representatives of the DoD [department of defence], the intelligence communities, and the national security council.” All Rusbridger could offer in reply was: “We have our managing editor here.”

Note, the reference to “intelligence communities, and the national security council” might well include the FBI; “representatives of the DoD” might include military criminal investigators. Thus it’s possible — but by no means proven — that our government included those investigating the leak itself in meetings purportedly about editorial content.

The Guardian goes on to describe PJ Crowley and Hillary’s private secretary trying to pressure the Guardian into revealing precisely what cables they’d publish.

Crowley set out the view from the lofty heights of US power: “Obviously, from our perspective these are stolen documents. They reveal sensitive military secrets and addresses that expose people to security risks.”

Crowley made his pitch. He said the US government was “willing to help” the Guardian if it was prepared to “share the documents” it had – in other words, tip off the state department which cables it intended to publish. Rusbridger was noncommittal.

Clinton’s private secretary chipped in. She said: “I’ve got a very direct question for you, Mr Rusbridger. You journalists like asking direct questions and I know you expect direct answers. So I’m going to ask you a direct question. Are you going to give us the numbers of the cables or not?

“No, we’re not.”

“Thank you very much.” [my emphasis]

The contrast between the NYT and the Guardian is instructive:the NYT sent over every cable they planned to publish. Whereas the Guardian refused to specify which cables they’d publish.

Under cover of off the record meetings with top national security officials, the NYT collaborated with the government, at the least on damage control, if not their investigation of WikiLeaks. The Guardian, by contrast, was unwilling to do more than warn State what general topics they’d cover on a day to day basis.

One other point: the fact that the government was asking newspapers precisely which cables they’d publish makes me wonder whether they didn’t have — and may still not have, though given the numbers of copies floating around I suspect they now know — a clear idea of which cables were included in the document dump. Geoff Morrell’s press conference last week made it clear that they still only consider Bradley Manning a person of interest in the leak of the larger dump, meaning that if he leaked them, they haven’t identified how he did so. But is it possible that — at least in November — they didn’t even know what cables were included in the dump?

  1. PhilPerspective says:

    But is it possible that–at least in November–they didn’t even know what cables were included in the dump?

    I’d say yes. And it just goes to show, save Krugman and Bob Herbert, what a crap paper the NYT is. Is Bill Keller that much a sellout or do they have tawdry information on him?

  2. radiofreewill says:

    Does the NYT treatment of Wikileaks make them the Adrian Lamo of the Press? A whistle-blower on a whistle-blower?

    Is that a legitimate Press function, or is the Gray Babushka the new Pravda?

  3. strangely enough says:

    I guess Mr. Rusbridger should not be expecting that State Dept. dinner invite any time soon.

    Amazing how not being beholden to government officials/access increases one’s journalistic credibility.

    • KerrynAus says:

      “I guess Mr. Rusbridger should not be expecting that State Dept. dinner invite any time soon.”

      Oh well, considering the smear campaign that Mr. Rusbridger is currently orchestrating against Assange, I expect the State Dept will make him the belle of their next ball.

      …. Before they nominate him for the next CIA extraordinary rendition and torture flight :-)

  4. rgreen says:

    Perhaps the immediate concern was more narrowly focused on what cables were about to appear in the press, than on what had been leaked.

      • BillyP says:

        Very amusing if true that they didn’t know what was out there. That would also imply that if it weren’t for the fluke Manning-Lamo exchange, there would have been no trail to the source of the leak.

        Hope US intelligence is having better success tracking frequent flier account numbers of UN diplomats.

  5. chetnolian says:

    To be fair there are differences.

    I have little doubt the NYT editor has been told or it may have been hinted that he could be prosecuted.

    Even Mr Cameron would not let Mr Rushbridger be extradited to the USA (I hope!)

  6. JTMinIA says:

    Does the gov’t copyright its cables? (Semi-serious question. Serious in the sense of that being a prerequisite for claiming they were “stolen”; not serious in the sense that it’s a stupid question.)

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    No doubt the USG considered and still considers the Pentagon Papers stolen documents. It would still be attempting to round up the usual suspects. This administration and its predecessor would still be detaining them indefinitely without charge or at least public trial, something Nixon would have dreamt of but not done because our then legislature and Supreme Court wouldn’t let him.

  8. McMia says:

    People surprised that the NYT is the instrument of official USG propaganda news?

    The NYT that with the help of Judith Miller and Michael Gordon gave a giant assist to Bush/Cheney and the US Congress in getting their Iraq war on?

    The NYT that covered up for a full year, until after he was safely re-elected, the fact that George Bush and his corporate partners were hoovering all communications and illegally spying on American citizens?

    The bottom line is that if you are reading a “scoop” in the NYT you can rest assured it is the version of the story the subject of said story wants the public to see…

  9. CTuttle says:

    The Grey Lady has definitely sold herself out…! 8-(

    Bully on the Guardian…! Has Foggy Bottom attempted this same BS with ElPais, Afterposten, etc…?

  10. waynec says:

    BillyP said,

    “That would also imply that if it weren’t for the fluke Manning-Lamo exchange, there would have been no trail to the source of the leak.”

    I’d say That would also imply that if it weren’t for the fluke “aleged” Manning-Lamo exchange, there would have been no trail to the source of the leak

  11. xargaw says:

    We don’t have journalists anymore. We have corporatists that worry about their stock value, their quarterly earnings and offending the powerful. Courage is a lost virture. Truth is the causalty. We have a society of people craving to be successful instead of valuable. Wall Street is the icon of what we are becoming and many of us are ashamed of this trend.

  12. KerrynAus says:

    “Is it possible that — at least in November — they didn’t even know what cables were included in the dump?”

    According to the Australian Age, that is quite possible. “THE US government refused repeated recent requests from the Gillard government to be given the WikiLeaks cables relating to Australia before their publication, so it would be better prepared to deal with their impact. All the Americans would provide was a general briefing on some 1400 documents that mention Australia.”


  13. TheScarletPimpernel says:

    A lesson to Wikileaks. In the future, scratch the NYT off your list of distributors of your forthcoming leaks. The NYT has become a whore of the Federal Government and that has been widely known for a very long time among progressives in the US. There is really not a good retail outlet for your stories in the US except perhaps McClatchy News and that is recommended with great caution. After all, they continue to employ that wingnut Andres Oppenheimer who regular consults with the CIA, every other cloak and dagger agency around and every wingnut Cuban ex-pat in Miami. You’re getting careless in your success, Julian.

  14. ioin says:

    The NY Times is a lackey of the US government. It has been at least since the build-up and propaganda for the Iraq War. They are corrupted to the core.

  15. deep harm says:

    Thank you for this insightful analysis that confirms what I suspected based on my experience and those of other whistleblowers. U.S. newspapers, including the New York Times, would show great interest in information offered to them, then suddenly and inexplicably cold. I suspected they were talking to government officials. But, the newspapers never came back to the whistleblowers to check the accuracy of what the government was telling them and certainly not to let the whistleblower know that his or her identity probably was exposed. This allows the government to engage in reprisal against the whistleblower without penalty because, without knowing for certain that the newspaper tipped off government officials, the whistleblower cannot claim protection under existing laws and regulations (which are preciously thin anyway, particularly for employees with security clearances). Thus whistleblowers are left twisting in the wind while their bosses gleefully plan the end of their careers.

  16. deep harm says:

    [corrected] Thank you for this insightful analysis confirming what I long suspected. In my experience and that of other whistleblowers, U.S. newspapers (including the New York Times) would show great interest in information offered to them; then, suddenly and inexplicably they would turn cold. I suspected they were talking to government officials and given phony justifications for withholding the information. But, to my knowledge, the newspapers didn’t came back to the whistleblowers to check the accuracy of what the government was telling them, and certainly not to let the whistleblower know that his or her identity probably was exposed in the process.

    Without knowing for certain that the newspaper tipped off government officials, or when, whistleblowers cannot show a connection with any retaliation that follows. They are thus deprived of protections under existing laws and regulations (which are preciously thin, anyway). Thus whistleblowers are left twisting in the wind while their bosses gleefully plan the end of their careers.

    Whistleblowers have long perceived that newspapers in the U.K. and other countries are more respectful of the dangers whistleblowers face. The details surrounding Wikileaks’ disclosures confirm this.