Saturday, August 06, 2005

NYT: "Use of Espionage Law in Secrets Case Troubles Analysts" (Eric Lichtblau & David Johnston)

In the other big leak case, the REO Speedwagon "Heard it from a friend who/ heard it from a friend*" one, the non-Judy Miller one, the New York Times offers, this morning, Eric Lichtblau and David Johnston's "Use of Espionage Law in Secrets Case Troubles Analysts."

Since it's not getting anywhere near the attention that the Miller case is, let's review. Defense Department analyst Lawrence (Larry) Franklin is alleged to have passed on classified information to two "staff members" of AIPAC (members when allegedy the information was passed on, they've since been dismissed) who in turn allegedly passed the information onto the government of Israel. (Guilt will be determined by a court. These are allegations.)

From the article:

"I think this has an absolute chilling effect," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The group has been monitoring the case and others related to government leaks, including the jailing of a New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, who refused to disclose a source in connection with a government investigation into the leaking of a C.I.A. officer's name.
"The government appears to be going very aggressively after these types of leak cases," Ms. Dalglish said, "and when reporters are involved, I'm just gritting my teeth."

I think Dalglish is correct about the chilling effect and the aggression; however, we aren't talking about something that was published or reported by the media in the allegations around Franklin, we're instead talking about classified information that allegedly was passed on to lobbyists for a foreign government (Israel) and then allegedly passed on to that government. The article notes that Glen Kessler of the Washington Post was "approached by the Justice Department in May about the case but declined to be interviewed. " And it does appear that the Justice Department is once again expecting reporters to waive their promises to sources (and do the work for the Justice Department -- strange since Justice does have wiretaps). But the case, by itself, is not an issue having to do with reporters and sources.

As the article notes, ". . . no reporters have been subpoenaed, a process that requires the approval of the attorney general. " Justice is being lazy (what, only Bully Boy's allowed to be lazy?) but at present the overtures to reporters in this instance appear to be the routine ones that have been going on for years. Dalglish is making a point that needs to be heard but as this case is being reported we're dealing with a "state secrets passed on to a foreign government via back channels" type case.

The allegations (nothing has yet been proven in court against Franklin or anyone else) are serious ones. Kara e-mailed her feelings that Dalglish's comments go to a side issue that's not currently pertinent and wondered if the caution when reporting this case had less to do with learning from past mistakes (Wen Ho Lee most recently) and more to do with a desire not to report fully on a case that involves AIPAC?

I have no idea. I'm glad that the hysteria generally operating when similar charges are made is absent from coverage of allegations and I'll hope that this is because the media (and the Times in particular) has learned something from past reporting. But it's certainly a question worth pondering.

Johnston reported on this issue yesterday. The most indepth coverage that I've seen on the allegations was in The New Yorker, Jeffrey Goldberg's "REAL INSIDERS: A pro-Israel lobby and an F.B.I. sting." From that article:

But in December four AIPAC officials, including Kohr, were subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia. In March, AIPAC's principal lawyer, Nathan Lewin, met with the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Paul McNulty, who agreed to let Lewin see some of the evidence of the Pentagon City sting.
According to an AIPAC source, an eleven-second portion of the telephone conversation between Rosen, Weissman, and the Post's Glenn Kessler, which the F.B.I. had recorded, was played for Lewin. In that conversation, Rosen is alleged to have told Kessler about Iranian agents in southern Iraq--information that Weissman had received from Franklin. In the part of the conversation that Lewin heard, Rosen jokes about "not getting in trouble" over the information. He also notes, "At least we have no Official Secrets Act"--the British law that makes journalists liable to prosecution if they publish classified material.
Prosecutors argued to Lewin that this statement proved that Rosen and Weissman were aware that the information Franklin had given them was classified, and that Rosen must therefore have known that he was passing classified information to Gilon, a foreign official. Lewin, who declined to comment on the case, recommended that AIPAC fire Rosen and Weissman. He also told the board that McNulty had promised that AIPAC itself would not be a target of the espionage investigation. An AIPAC spokesman, Patrick Dorton, said of the firing, "Rosen and Weissman were dismissed because they engaged in conduct that was not part of their jobs, and because this conduct did not comport with the standards that AIPAC expects and requires of its employees."

The Times article echoes most of these points (should Goldberg and The New Yorker have been credited?). Though the Times notes that the Washington Post has noted that Rosen and Weissman "relayed" information to Kessler and though it quotes from the phone call to Kessler (identified in that section of the article as "a reporter"), it doesn't explain that the reporter on the wire tap is Kessler. Johnston and Lichtblau may feel it's implied (it isn't). And that might be why issues of reporters and the administration overwhelm the larger issue of the allegations. Otherwise, the issue may well be that once again the press makes itself the lead story.

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(*"Heard it from a friend . . ." from the REO Speedwagon song "Take It On The Run" written by Gary Richrath, originally appeared on the album Hi Infidelity.)