Monday, February 11, 2008

Shield for what?

Have been casually reading "State of War" by New York Times journalist James Risen (acquired through Amazon for mere pennies). Risen was the one who spilled the beans about the NSA's eavesdropping program and telecom spy program.

Ironically he was recently subpoenaed for material in that book--thanks to a CIA criminal referral--specifically for the part about a covert CIA nuclear switcheroo game gone wrong regarding Iran. Persecution fears being what they are with our current fascist government, this has sparked renewed talk of a shield law to protect our upstanding reporters:
“Jim has adhered to the highest traditions of journalism. He is the highest caliber of reporter that you can find, and he will keep his commitment to the confidentiality of his sources.”
And his newspaper also thinks he's pretty swell:
A spokeswoman for The Times, Catherine J. Mathis, said the paper “strongly supports Mr. Risen and deplores what seems to be a growing trend of government leak investigations focusing on journalists, particularly in the national security area.”
The Plamaniacs at JOM have their theories about who his source might be but in the meantime, we need to take a little detour down the memory hole.

Remember that poor little old Chinese man named Wen Ho Lee, the Los Alamos nuclear scientist whom the Clinton administration accused of stealing nookular secrets? He sued the government because of those leaks. Remember what happened to his civil lawsuit? Why, it was settled out of court for a large wad of cash contributed by both government and the media. Apparently this was to designed to prevent the specter of upstanding journalists being forced in court to reveal their Clinton-era sources right before an important election season:
"Unfortunately, the journalists in this case . . . reluctantly concluded that the only way they could continue to protect the bond with their sources and sidestep increasing punishment, including possible jail time, was to contribute to the settlement with the government and Wen Ho Lee," said Henry Hoberman, senior vice president of ABC. "It was not a decision that any of the journalists came to easily or happily."
Yep, their hands were tied. And yep, you've probably already guessed it by now:
The reporters were Walter Pincus of The Post, James Risen of the New York Times, Bob Drogin of the Los Angeles Times, H. Josef Hebert of the Associated Press and Pierre Thomas of ABC.
So in the Lee case a shield law would have done what, fully insulated political operatives who were trying to use a private citizen as a scapegoat to divert attention from a political embarrassment? Or, in the case of Risen's book, potentially stopped the public from knowing who might have leaked above top secret info about an enemy during wartime, and why? Help me out here.

Without some fear of retribution, reporters looking for Pulitzers mixed with sleazy government officials looking to further agendas would be left to run amok. Security clearances are issued for a reason. Nobody should expect to bust their clearance with immunity. After all, it's one thing to leak about tax policy or cronyism on a road project but quite another to give up national security secrets during wartime to torpedo a political enemy. And it's hardly surprising, hardly surprising, that the New York Times can't figure out the difference.


Legitimate pilfering of state secrets. Isn't this just as bad as publishing top secret info in a book or blabbing it to the Times? Seems like they used to hang people for lesser infractions.

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