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Profile: Bill Keller
Bill Keller was a participant or observer in the following events:
In a military journal, William S. Lind, a defense intellectual, and several officers warn that the US must transform its military to fight a new kind of war they call “fourth-generation warfare” or “4GW.” Unlike previous types of warfare relying on massive firepower and centralized command structures, 4GW will resemble terrorism and guerrilla warfare and could emerge from non-Western areas like the Islamic world. They write: “The fourth generation battlefield is likely to include the whole of the enemy’s society. Such dispersion, coupled with what seems likely to be increased importance for actions by very small groups of combatants, will require even the lowest level to operate flexibly on the basis of the commander’s intent. Second is decreasing dependence on centralized logistics. Dispersion, coupled with increased value placed on tempo, will require a high degree of ability to live off the land and the enemy. Third is more emphasis on maneuver. Mass, of men or fire power, will no longer be an overwhelming factor. In fact, mass may become a disadvantage as it will be easy to target. Small, highly maneuverable, agile forces will tend to dominate.
Fourth is a goal of collapsing the enemy internally rather than physically destroying him. Targets will include such things as the population’s support for the war and the enemy’s culture. Correct identification of enemy strategic centers of gravity will be highly important. In broad terms, fourth-generation warfare seems likely to be widely dispersed and largely undefined; the distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point.… A fourth generation may emerge from non-Western cultural traditions, such as Islamic or Asiatic traditions. The fact that some non-Western areas, such as the Islamic world, are not strong in technology may lead them to develop a fourth generation through ideas rather than technology.” [Marine Corps Gazette, 10/1989] After 9/11, this article and others developing similar ideas on the need for a smaller, more agile military, will be called remarkably prescient. New York Times columnist Bill Keller will comment: “The fourth-generation threat sounds, when you read this text today, uncannily like al-Qaeda. The authors suggested the threat would emerge from a non-Western culture like Islam, that it might be stateless, that, lacking modern means, its warriors would infiltrate our society and use our own technology against us, that they would regard our whole civilization as a battlefield. Fourth-generation warriors would ‘use a free society’s freedom and openness, its greatest strengths, against it.’” [CounterPunch, 9/29/2001; Hindu, 10/9/2001; Atlantic Monthly, 12/2001; New York Times Magazine, 3/10/2002] This article and others with a similar orientation will be praised in an article by “Abu ‘Ubeid Al-Qurashi,” reportedly the pseudonym of an Osama bin Laden aide and al-Qaeda theorist. He will say: “In 1989, some American military experts predicted a fundamental change in the future form of warfare.… [F]ourth-generation wars have already occurred and […] the superiority of the theoretically weaker party has already been proven; in many instances, nation-states have been defeated by stateless nations.… The time has come for the Islamic movements facing a general crusader offensive to internalize the rules of fourth-generation warfare.” [MEMRI Special Dispatch, 2/10/2002; Insight on the News, 12/24/2002; American Conservative, 4/7/2003]
Ukraine agrees to give up its nuclear weapons. It is the last of the former Soviet states to give up its nuclear arsenal, and, as the New York Times’s Bill Keller will later observe, “probably the only one with the technological wherewithal to override Moscow’s centralized control systems and become an overnight nuclear state.” The Bush and Clinton administrations used a combination of diplomatic promises and pressure to convince Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons; the US has agreed to funnel large amounts of financial aid into the country as well as entering into a military partnership with it. Keller will note that at this time: “possession of nuclear weapons [i]s still understood as a serious impediment for a country seeking admission into the Western world. If you want… to join the party, you checked your nukes at the door.” [New York Times, 5/4/2003] Ukraine will ship the last of its nuclear weapons to Russia in June 1996. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/2/1996]
Senior Bush administration officials say that their private hope for curtailing North Korea’s “rogue” nuclear weapons program (see January 10, 2003 and After, February 4, 2003, and August 2003) is for regime change—for the dictatorship of Kim Jong Il to fall. One official says the best way to deal with North Korea is to, in essence, use economic and diplomatic embargoes to “starve” the Kim regime. Providing Kim’s government with food and oil, even in return for nuclear concessions, is “morally repugnant,” the official says, and he does not believe North Korea will willingly give up its nuclear weapons anyway (see October 27, 2002 and November 2002). “If we could have containment that’s tailored to the conditions of North Korea, and not continue to throw it lifelines like we have in the past, I think it goes away,” the official says. “It’s a bankrupt economy. I can’t imagine that the regime has any popular support. How long it takes, I don’t know. It could take two years.” (Numerous Bush officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld’s deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and State Department official John Bolton have all said publicly that North Korea’s regime is bound to collapse sooner or later.) When asked what the North Koreans will do during that transition period, the Bush official replies: “I think it’ll crank out, you know, half a dozen weapons a year or more. We lived with a Soviet Union that had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, including thousands of them pointed at us. We just have to cope.” Asian and American nuclear experts are horrified by the Bush administration view. As New York Times columnist Bill Keller notes, the argument “has some rather serious holes. First, North Korea, unlike the Soviet Union, will sell anything to anybody for the right price. Second, a collapsing North Korea with nukes may not be as pretty a picture as my official informant anticipates. Third, if this collapse means a merger of the peninsula into a single, unified Korea—that is, if South Korea becomes a de facto nuclear power—that will bring little joy to Japan or China.” Another Bush official says that if North Korea shows signs of expanding its nuclear arsenal, a military strike to eliminate that threat would be considered. “The only acceptable end state [is] everything out,” he says. To tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea would send a message to Iran (see February 9, 2003) and other nations: “Get your nuclear weapons quickly, before the Americans do to you what they’ve done to Iraq, because North Korea shows once you get the weapons, you’re immune.” [New York Times, 5/4/2003; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]
The grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity (see December 30, 2003) subpoenas New York Times reporter Judith Miller to testify. The Times says it will fight the subpoena. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 8/12/2004 ; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Unusual Negotiations between Lawyers - The subpoena will open a lengthy and sometimes puzzling set of negotiations between lawyers for Miller and her source, White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Miller refuses to divulge the identity of her source or the contents of their conversations (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). But she sends her lawyer, Floyd Abrams, to talk to Libby’s lawyer, Joseph Tate, to see if Libby will approve of her testimony. According to Abrams and others involved in the negotiations, Tate initially tells Abrams that Miller is free to testify. However, Abrams will say, Tate says that Libby never told Miller the name or the undercover status of Plame Wilson. This raises a conflict for Miller: her notes clearly indicate that she was told three times about Plame Wilson’s identity. If she testifies, she will contradict Libby’s own accounts of their conversations.
Libby Attempting to Influence Miller? - Miller decides that Libby is sending her a signal not to testify. She will later recalls Abrams’s recounting of his conversation with Tate: “He was pressing about what you would say. When I wouldn’t give him an assurance that you would exonerate Libby, if you were to cooperate, he then immediately gave me this, ‘Don’t go there, or, we don’t want you there.’” Abrams himself will recall: “On more than one occasion, Mr. Tate asked me for a recitation of what Ms. Miller would say. I did not provide one.” (Tate will angrily dispute both Abrams’s and Miller’s recollections, saying: “I never once suggested that she should not testify. It was just the opposite. I told Mr. Abrams that the waiver was voluntary.… ‘Don’t go there’ or ‘We don’t want you there’ is not something I said, would say, or ever implied or suggested.”) Miller’s executive editor, Bill Keller, will later say that Miller believed Libby feared her testimony. “Judy believed Libby was afraid of her testimony,” he will recall. “She thought Libby had reason to be afraid of her testimony.” Because of these reasons, Miller will decide not to further pursue the idea of a waiver from Libby that would allow her to testify about their conversations. For over a year, the two sides do not speak to one another. “I interpreted the silence as, ‘Don’t testify,’” Miller will later say. Tate will counter that he never understood why Miller or Abrams wanted to discuss the matter further. [New York Times, 10/16/2005]
McClellan: Fighting to Protect Partisan Government Leakers - In 2008, one-time White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write of Miller and fellow journalist Matthew Cooper, also battling a subpoena (see August 9, 2004): “Of course, there was a curious twist to the defense used by Cooper and Miller. By refusing to divulge the names of their sources in the leak case, the two reporters were not protecting courageous whistle-blowers revealing government wrongdoing in the public interest. Rather, they were shielding government officials whom administration critics believed had used leaks as weapons of partisan warfare. It was hard for some in the public, and especially those critical of the administration, to see this as an act of journalism.… This episode… seemed to confirm for at least some administration critics that reporters were no longer heroic figures, but were now participating in the same partisan warfare they created.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 256]
Judge Thomas Hogan holds New York Times reporter Judith Miller in contempt for refusing to answer a subpoena from the grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity (see August 12, 2004 and After). [Washington Post, 7/3/2007; Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 11/19/2009] Hogan orders Miller jailed for up to 18 months after she informs him she will not answer questions from special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald about her conversations with officials. In turn, Hogan says Miller has no special right as a reporter to defy a subpoena in a criminal investigation. Hogan rules that he is satisfied Fitzgerald has exhausted other avenues of determining key information about the Plame Wilson identity leak, and that his questioning of journalists is a last resort rather than a “fishing expedition,” as the Times has argued. “The special counsel has made a limited, deferential approach to the press in this matter,” Hogan says. He goes on to note that journalists’ promise to protect their sources is outweighed by the government’s duty to investigate a serious crime. In a 1972 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment does not protect reporters called before a criminal grand jury. “We have a classic confrontation between conflicting interests,” Hogan says. Miller remains free on bond while the Times appeals his decision. After the ruling, Miller tells a group of reporters: “It’s really frightening when journalists can be put in jail for doing their job effectively. This is about all journalists and about all government officials who provide information on the promise of confidentiality. Without that, they won’t come forward, and the public won’t be informed.” Times executive editor Bill Keller says he is disturbed that Bush administration officials had been asked by their superiors in this case to sign waivers of confidentiality agreements with reporters (see January 2-5, 2004). “This is going to become all the rage in corporate and government circles,” he says. “It’s really spooky.” [CBS News, 10/7/2004; Washington Post, 10/8/2004]
The New York Times agrees to a White House request to withhold publication of a potential “bombshell” story: an in-depth article revealing an enormous, and possibly illegal, warrantless wiretapping program executed by the NSA at President Bush’s behest after the 9/11 attacks. The Times will publish the story almost a year later (see December 15, 2005). In August 2006, the Times’s public editor, Byron Calame, will confirm the delay, and note that he has been “increasingly intrigued” by the various descriptions of the delay by Times editor Bill Keller (see December 16, 2005) and others. Keller will tell Calame that, contrary to some statements he and others have made, the story was originally scheduled to be published just days before the November 2004 presidential election. “The climactic discussion about whether to publish was right on the eve of the election,” Keller will say, though he will refuse to explain why he makes the final decision to hold the story. However, he will say that at this time he is not sure the story’s sources are reliable enough to warrant its publication before a close election. [New York Times, 8/13/2006]
Judge Thomas Hogan. [Source: Washington City Paper]A federal judge orders New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who continues to refuse to comply with a subpoena in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak case (see December 30, 2003), to go to jail until she or the Times complies. Time magazine and its reporter Matthew Cooper have already agreed to comply with the subpoena, thereby sparing Cooper jail time (see July 1, 2005 and July 6, 2005). [Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Refusal to Reveal Sources - Miller tells Judge Thomas Hogan: “Your Honor, in this case I cannot break my word just to stay out of jail. The right of civil disobedience based on personal conscience is fundamental to our system and honored throughout our history.… The freest and fairest societies are not only those with independent judiciaries, but those with an independent press that works every day to keep government accountable by publishing what the government might not want the public to know.… If journalists cannot be trusted to guarantee confidentiality, then journalists cannot function and there cannot be a free press.” Her attorney says, “Judy’s view is that any purported waiver she got from anyone (see January 2-5, 2004) was not on the face of it sufficiently broad, clear, and uncoerced.” Hogan, in sharp disagreement, calls Miller’s decision not to testify a possible “obstruction of justice.” [New York Times, 7/6/2005; New York Times, 7/7/2005; Wilson, 2007, pp. 222-223] He seems moved by Miller’s impassioned speech until she invokes her time in Iraq. At that point, according to reporter Marie Brenner, his face darkens. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will later say, “Ms. Miller has great respect for the military who served in Iraq, as we should all do, but if one of those officers’ [lives] was compromised by the leak of classified information, we would want to see that justice was done.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006] Hogan says Miller can leave the jail any time she likes. “She has the keys to release herself,” he says. “She has a waiver [from her source] she chooses not to recognize” (see January 2-5, 2004 and August 12, 2004 and After). She can “avoid even a minute of separation from her husband if she would do no more than just follow the law like every other citizen in America is required to do.” When Miller’s lawyers ask for home detention and denial of e-mail and cell phone access instead of incarceration, Hogan dryly retorts, referring to Miller’s extensive time spent in Iraq: “Certainly one who can handle the desert in wartime is far better equipped than the average person jailed in a federal facility.… Forced vacation at a comfortable home is not a compelling form of coercion.” [New York Times, 10/16/2005; Wilson, 2007, pp. 222-223] Miller will later tell a colleague: “I was told to put my medications in a Baggie, to understand that I would have no makeup, no personal items except for my pills.” Her lawyers tell her, “You are going in one door of the courthouse and out another.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006]
'Draconian Act' - Times editor Bill Keller calls Miller’s incarceration “a chilling conclusion to an utterly confounding case,” and Fitzgerald’s decision to jail the reporter a “draconian act” that punishes “an honorable journalist” and will “serve future cover-ups of information that happens in the recesses of government and other powerful institutions.” Keller praises Miller’s “determination to honor her professional commitment,” noting that her defiance of the subpoenas “is not an attempt to put herself above the law. The law presented Judy with the choice between betraying a trust to a confidential source or going to jail. The choice she made is a brave and principled choice, and it reflects a valuing of individual conscience that has been part of this country’s tradition since its founding.” [New York Times, 7/7/2005]
Former Clinton administration political consultant James Carville predicts that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald will “com[e] after more people at the New York Times” in addition to Times reporter Judith Miller, who is in jail for refusing to cooperate with Fitzgerald’s investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 6, 2005). Carville tells radio host Don Imus: “My sense is he’s coming after more people at the New York Times. He’s going to subpoena [executive editor] Bill Keller and all of them and ask them what Judy Miller told them. And if they don’t talk, he’s going to stick them in jail.” Carville also says that many people he talks to believe that Miller was used by the White House to “disseminate” Plame Wilson’s identity. “There are all sorts of rumors and I hear second hand that [Miller] was screaming out in the news room about this,” he says. The Times, Carville says, “to some extent is going to have to come clean. Because they’re going to have to tell us what Judy Miller knew, when she knew it, and who she told. And there’s a lot of people at the Times—and I know this to be a fact—who believe that.” Carville says it is difficult for Miller to claim First Amendment protections in refusing to discuss her knowledge of Plame Wilson’s identity leak. “It’s going to be very interesting to see whether [Miller’s] problem is a First Amendment [problem]—i.e., I want to protect a source—or a Fifth Amendment [problem]—I was out spreading this stuff too.” [NewsMax, 8/8/2005]
New York Times reporter Judith Miller is released from jail after agreeing to comply with a subpoena from the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 6, 2005). According to Miller, the person who told her of Plame Wilson’s covert identity, former vice-presidential chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, “voluntarily and personally released me from my promise of confidentiality” (see September 15, 2005 and October 28, 2005). [Washington Post, 7/3/2007] Libby’s lawyer Joseph Tate says that his client released Miller from her confidentiality agreement over a year ago, and that he was surprised to learn that Miller and her lawyer, Robert Bennett, did not know that she was free to testify. “We told her lawyers it [Libby’s original waiver] was not coerced,” Tate says. “We are surprised to learn we had anything to do with her incarceration” (see September 12, 2005). [Washington Post, 9/30/2009] Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger says: “Judy has been unwavering in her commitment to protect the confidentiality of her source. We are very pleased that she has finally received a direct and uncoerced waiver, both by phone and in writing, releasing her from any claim of confidentiality and enabling her to testify.” Miller adds: “I went to jail to preserve the time-honored principle that a journalist must respect a promise not to reveal the identity of a confidential source. I chose to take the consequences—85 days in prison—rather than violate that promise. The principle was more important to uphold than my personal freedom.” [New York Times, 9/29/2005] In preparation for her upcoming testimony (see September 30, 2005), Sulzberger and Times executive editor Bill Keller take Miller from jail to have a massage, a manicure, a martini, and a steak dinner before she goes home to sleep in her own bed. [New York Times, 10/16/2005]
New York Times reporter Judith Miller testifies for a second time to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak. In light of this and her earlier testimony (see September 30, 2005), federal judge Thomas Hogan lifts the contempt order he had previously issued (see October 7, 2004). Miller testifies about her notes on her discussions with Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney (October 7, 2005). She testifies that she most likely met with Libby on June 23, 2003 (see June 23, 2003) only after prosecutors show her Secret Service logs that indicate she met with him in the Executive Office Building. She had failed to testify about that meeting in her previous testimony, and, when pressed by prosecutors, insisted that she could not remember that specific meeting. Miller’s lawyer, Robert Bennett, tells a reporter that today’s testimony “corrected” her earlier statements to the grand jury regarding the June 23 meeting. He adds, “We went back on the second occasion to provide those additional notes that were found, and correct the grand jury testimony reflecting on the June 23 meeting,” and says Miller’s testimony is now “correct, complete, and accurate.” Miller testifies today, as she did on September 30, that Libby disclosed Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to her during discussions they had in June and July 2003, contradicting Libby’s own statements (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). Times editor Bill Keller says that the Times will “write the most thorough story we can of her entanglement with the White House leak investigation.” [New York Times, 10/12/2005; National Journal, 10/20/2005]
The New York Times again finds itself apologizing for its failures in covering the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson and its handling, or lack of handling, of the newspaper’s star reporter, Judith Miller, who recently testified as to her knowledge of the matter (see September 30, 2005). It also admits that much of Miller’s prewar reporting on Iraq was “totally wrong.” Although the paper’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, and its executive editor, Bill Keller, supported Miller’s decision to go to jail rather than reveal the source of her knowledge about Plame Wilson’s CIA identity (see July 6, 2005), neither knew many details of Miller’s conversations with her source, former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Neither knew, for example, that Miller’s claim of not learning Plame Wilson’s identity from Libby was undermined by her own notes. Ultimately, both Sulzberger and Keller left most of the decisions on how to handle the situation to Miller herself. “This car had her hand on the wheel because she was the one at risk,” says Sulzberger. While Miller continues to portray her decision to go to jail as one rooted in principle, critics say that she and the Times were not protecting a whistleblower, but an administration source bent on crushing dissent. Asked what she regretted about the Times’s handling of the matter, managing editor Jill Abramson says, “The entire thing.”
'I Got It Totally Wrong' - Many in the newsroom and in the editorial staff believed that Miller’s prewar articles on Iraq’s WMD—articles that have long been proven to be based largely on false information from unreliable Iraqi defectors (see December 20, 2001, September 18, 2002, March 19-20, 2003, July 25, 2003, and Autumn 2003)—unfairly advanced the administration’s case for war. Miller operated with a level of autonomy other reporters found unusual and distressing, especially since many of them believed her reporting verged on administration propaganda. Investigative editor Douglas Frantz recalls that Miller once called herself “Miss Run Amok”; when he asked her what she meant, she replied, “I can do whatever I want.” Miller now admits her reports were largely specious. “WMD—I got it totally wrong,” she says. “The analysts, the experts, and the journalists who covered them—we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong. I did the best job that I could.”
Not a Clear-Cut Decision to Fight - Keller says: “I wish it had been a clear-cut whistle-blower case. I wish it had been a reporter who came with less public baggage.” Times reporter Todd Purdom says: “Everyone admires our paper’s willingness to stand behind us and our work, but most people I talk to have been troubled and puzzled by Judy’s seeming ability to operate outside of conventional reportorial channels and managerial controls. Partly because of that, many people have worried about whether this was the proper fight to fight.” For her part, Miller says she intends to take some time off and perhaps write a book about her ordeal. She says she wants to get back into investigative reporting, and continue to cover “the same thing I’ve always covered—threats to our country.” [New York Times, 10/16/2005]
Criticism of Miller, Times - The next day, columnist Norman Solomon will write, “It now seems that Miller functioned with more accountability to US military intelligence officials than to New York Times editors.” Solomon also notes that in her July 8, 2003 meeting with White House official Lewis Libby (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003), Miller expressed frustration at the government’s refusal to allow her “to discuss with editors some of the more sensitive information about Iraq.” Solomon writes: “There’s nothing wrong with this picture if Judith Miller is an intelligence operative for the US government. But if she’s supposed to be a journalist, this is a preposterous situation—and the fact that the New York Times has tolerated it tells us a lot about that newspaper.” Solomon also notes that Miller’s claim of “analysts, the experts, and the journalists who covered them” were “all wrong” about Iraqi WMD is itself wrong. “Some very experienced weapons inspectors—including [the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency] Mohamed ElBaradei, [former chief UN weapons inspector] Hans Blix, and [former UN weapons inspector] Scott Ritter—challenged key assertions from the White House,” he writes. “Well before the invasion, many other analysts also disputed various aspects of the US government’s claims about WMDs in Iraq.… Meanwhile journalists at some British newspapers, including The Independent and The Guardian, raised tough questions that were virtually ignored by mainstream US reporters in the Washington press corps.… [T]he Times did not ‘fall for misinformation’ as much as jump for it. The newspaper eagerly helped the administration portray deceptions as facts.” [CounterPunch, 10/17/2005] Liberal columnist and blogger Arianna Huffington provides a long list of reporters and publications who “didn’t get it wrong” on Iraqi WMD. She quotes reporter Joe Lauria, a veteran foreign affairs reporter who writes for the London Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, and the Boston Globe, who told her: “I didn’t get it wrong. And a lot of others who covered the lead up to the war didn’t get it wrong. Mostly because we weren’t just cozying up to Washington sources but had widened our reporting to what we were hearing from people like Mohamed ElBaradei and Hans Blix, and from sources in other countries, like Germany, France, and Russia. Miller had access to these voices, too, but ignored them. Our chief job as journalists is to challenge authority. Because an official says something might make it ‘official,’ but it doesn’t necessarily make it true.” [Huffington Post, 10/21/2005]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Douglas Frantz, Bill Keller, Arthur Sulzberger, Arianna Huffington, Jill Abramson, Judith Miller, Norman Solomon, New York Times, Todd Purdom, Joe Lauria
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Arthur Sulzberger. [Source: New York Times]George W. Bush summons New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and Times editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office to try to dissuade them from running a landmark story revealing the NSA’s illegal wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005) that he authorized in 2002 (see Early 2002). In the meeeting, Bush warns Sulzberger and Keller that “there’ll be blood on your hands” if another terrorist attack were to occur, obviously implying that to reveal the nature of the program would invite terrorist strikes. Bush is unsuccessful in his attempt to quash the story. [Newsweek, 12/21/2005; Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Times executive editor Bill Keller. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times’s executive editor, Bill Keller, defends his paper’s decision to reveal the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, conducted through the NSA (see December 15, 2005), after holding the story for over a year. Keller writes: “We start with the premise that a newspaper’s job is to publish information that is a matter of public interest. Clearly a secret policy reversal that gives an American intelligence agency discretion to monitor communications within the country is a matter of public interest.… A year ago, when this information first became known to Times reporters, the administration argued strongly that writing about this eavesdropping program would give terrorists clues about the vulnerability of their communications and would deprive the government of an effective tool for the protection of the country’s security. Officials also assured senior editors of The Times that a variety of legal checks had been imposed that satisfied everyone involved that the program raised no legal questions. As we have done before in rare instances when faced with a convincing national security argument, we agreed not to publish at that time. We also continued reporting, and in the ensuing months two things happened that changed our thinking. First, we developed a fuller picture of the concerns and misgivings that had been expressed during the life of the program. It is not our place to pass judgment on the legal or civil liberties questions involved in such a program, but it became clear those questions loomed larger within the government than we had previously understood. Second, in the course of subsequent reporting we satisfied ourselves that we could write about this program—withholding a number of technical details—in a way that would not expose any intelligence-gathering methods or capabilities that are not already on the public record. The fact that the government eavesdrops on those suspected of terrorist connections is well-known. The fact that the NSA can legally monitor communications within the United States with a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is also public information. What is new is that the NSA has for the past three years had the authority to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States without a warrant. It is that expansion of authority—not the need for a robust anti-terror intelligence operation—that prompted debate within the government, and that is the subject of the article.” [CNN, 12/16/2005]
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