January 19, 2006
The Peoples' (Conditional) Right to Know

By Jack Kelly

Last month Italian authorities arrested three Algerians who were members of the al Qaida -linked terror group GSPC.

The three were plotting attacks on ships, railway stations and stadiums in the United States in a bid to outdo the casualties caused on 9/11, said Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu.

The arrests made front page news in newspapers in Italy, Britain and France. But apparently the only U.S. newspaper to mention them was the Philadelphia Inquirer, in a short AP dispatch on page A-6. The AP did not mention that the principal targets of the plotters were in the U.S.

The incuriosity of our news media about the plotters and their plots is curious, especially in light of the mysterious death of Joel Hinrichs, 21, a Muslim convert who, wearing a suicide vest, blew himself up Oct. 1 on a park bench outside the stadium in Norman where the university of Oklahoma football team was playing Kansas State. When Hinrichs' apartment was searched after his death, the FBI found a plane ticket to Algeria.

Perhaps the Algerian plotters went unmentioned because describing how they were caught -- the Italian authorities were listening in on their telephone conversations -- would interfere with a current journalistic meme.

On December 16th, the New York Times published a story revealing that the National Security Agency has been listening in on conversations between al Qaida suspects abroad and people in the United States without first obtaining warrants.

The editors of the New York Times are in high dudgeon. The Bush administration has instituted "a major shift in intelligence gathering practices," the Times declared in an editorial.

The editors knew this wasn't true, because on May 27th, 1999, the Times printed a story by reporter Niall McKay about Echelon, a much broader electronic intercept program begun during the Clinton administration. I could find no editorials in the New York Times criticizing Echelon. Apparently, warrantless electronic intercept programs threaten civil liberties only when a Republican is president.

Journalists who are not supposed to be expressing opinions in the news columns make their views known by the term they use -- "whistle blower" -- to describe the person or persons who told the New York Times about the ultra-secret NSA program.

What, you may ask, is the difference between a whistle blower and a leaker?

A whistle blower is someone who discloses secrets helpful to Democrats or embarrassing to Republicans.

A leaker, on the other hand, is someone who discloses secrets helpful to Republicans or embarrassing to Democrats. The person or persons who told journalists that Valerie Plame, wife of Joseph C. Wilson of uranium-in-Niger fame, worked at the CIA invariably are described as "leakers."

It remains to be seen whether the person or persons who outed Ms. Plame committed a crime. It is clear that the person or persons who revealed the existence of the NSA program have done so.

And this is a crime that could have serious consequences. Those who have something to hide change their behavior when alerted they may be under surveillance. Since the New York Times story appeared, there has been a surge in the purchase of large quantities of disposable cell phones by people from the Middle East and Pakistan, ABC News reported Jan. 12th.

Disposable cell phones are popular with drug dealers and terrorists because they are all but impossible to track. Such phones were used as detonators in the Madrid train attacks in 2004.

Journalists excuse putting Americans at risk by disclosing information helpful to terrorists on the grounds of "the peoples' right to know." But "the peoples' right to know" apparently doesn't extend to major portions of the Barrett report, which is due to be released Thursday.

David Barrett is the independent counsel who investigated Henry Cisneros, secretary of housing and urban development in the Clinton administration.

Mr. Barrett reportedly found evidence of abuses of power by Clinton administration officials in the Justice department and the Internal Revenue Service.

Much of the Barrett report has been suppressed, without a murmur from journalists who complain about the NSA intercept program.

The entire Barrett report could be released without endangering national security, and it is about actual abuses of power, while critics have been unable to identify any in the NSA intercept program.

Apparently if the information is embarrassing to Democrats, the people don't have a right to know about it.

Jack Kelly

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