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June 06, 2005

The New York Times and Outing the CIA's Covert Air Wing

Good article exploring the possible motivations for the New York Times new policy of "Loose lips sink ships, and that's a good thing:"

A close friend of mine, who is an intelligence specialist in the US Army, departs soon for Iraq. It is quite clear to me that the New York Times article has increased by some significant amount the risk to his life. The forces lethally opposed to the USA are currently under great pressure, perhaps stretched in their own intelligence-gathering mission, and may well find the specifics of the article highly valuable in targeting their efforts. Even if the intelligence services change their contractors and their general pattern of interaction with civilian business, these measures will take time and incur other, unknown risks.

If my friend dies in his tour of duty I shall be thinking very specifically about Mr. Scott, Mr. Grey, and Ms. Williams. Quite likely they would have had nothing particularly to do with this misfortune. However, human nature being what it is, I know that I would not be able to exclude them from my meditations. If the authors were just publishing their article to get a chance at a Pulitzer, I really have no moral quarrel with them at all, any more than I would have with a crocodile that eats a child or a raccoon that raids my larder. However, if they do have a moral identity as human beings, they should know that, if a certain civilian plane comes down over an unnamed Middle Eastern country, and all the US personnel aboard are killed, there is one compatriot who will regard them as murderers. May they think of this as they look in the mirror.

I think the motivation is pretty clear myself. The New York Times opposes virtually all covert action and feels a greater good is accomplished by making it as difficult as possible to engage in such activities.

They are also under the misimpression that the American public opposes this sort of shadow war, and if we only knew "the facts," we'd demand our government shut these programs down.

Talk about living in a coccoon.

This was a reckless and dangerous piece to write. It wouldn't even occur to most people in the media to publish such sensitive details about a very important covert program. But the Times believes it knows better than the American government, the American military, and (of course) the American people, and it "knows" in its collective heart that it's more important to thwart the CIA than to protect national secrets as any good American might.

Thanks to my lovely co-host Karol.

Ask The Ombudsman: RDBrewer notes the Times' "public editor's" email address is public@nytimes.com.

He suggests that you ask the New York Times about its reasoning and justification for revealing such delicate information when the story could easily have been written in broad strokes avoiding any sensitive invormation.

His own letter:

Dear Public Editor:

What could possibly be the justification for publishing C.I.A. Expanding Terror Battle Under Guise of Charter Flights by Scott Shane, Stephen Grey, and Margo Williams? Is there some greater public good here that hasn't been identified in the article or anywhere else? Has there been some transgression of the law? What exactly was being uncovered here and for whom? (Other than the kinds of planes America's enemies might want to consider targeting.) There must be some reason why NYT editors considered it acceptable to increase the risk to American lives with such specifics. What is it?

If one of these planes now goes down, how will the NYT answer questions about causing American deaths?

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posted by Ace at 12:56 PM

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