Friday, April 07, 2006

NYT: Buries spying and can someone please point out John Conyers to them?

A former AT&T technician said on Thursday that the company cooperated with the National Security Agency in 2003 to install equipment capable of "vacuum-cleaner surveillance" of e-mail messages and other Internet traffic.

The above is from "Court Filings Tell of Internet Spying" in this morning's New York Times and it's credited to a new kid we should all watch the work in the future: "The New York Times." Let's hear it for him and her and this three paragraph "article." (Noted by Ben.) Three paragraphs isn't a great deal of space, true. But then this topic must not be as important, say, as another this week -- the "trend" story of EATING DINNER TOGETHER! Or maybe this young scrapper didn't just have his/her friends to quote in the story?

It's got a lot to do with priorities. And something that might actually be a less than 5% increase (assuming a +/- 5% margin of error -- the trend story didn't give a margin) is certainly much more interesting than real news. Which is why EATING DINNER TOGETHER ran on the front page as though it were an honest to God news story and not the paper jerking off yet again and calling a no trend, a nowhere near a trend, event a trend story.

The above doesn't even rate a real byline. But a phoney "things have changed, believe you me!" story rates the front page. Priorities.

(The trend story was noted earlier in the week by Lucy. A friend at the paper noted it yesterday as well. Both felt it needed to be noted here.)

That's why the above appears on A20. Why it and another story don't make the front page, crowded out by breathless reporting over an ancient document instead -- one, that only inside the paper, in the second story on the alleged Gospel of Judas, does the paper wonder "Is It True?" Now when has truth ever been an issue with the New York Times? You start expecting truth in the New York Times, pretty soon readers may demand reality as well!

From Eric Lichtblau's "Gonzales Suggests Legal Basis for Domestic Eavesdropping:"

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales suggested on Thursday for the first time that the president might have the legal authority to order wiretapping without a warrant on communications between Americans that occur exclusively within the United States.
"I'm not going to rule it out," Mr. Gonzales said when asked about that possibility at a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

Here's the nutshell, Gonzales went before the House judiciary committee. The committee includes John Conyers as the ranking Democrat who, in fact, had a great deal to say, though you wouldn't know it to read the article. Maybe years from now, someone will find a decaying copy of a transcript of the exchange and wonder "Is It True?" They'll certainly wonder that since, to read to the paper of record, is to wonder if John Conyers really does exist -- so absent is he from their coverage.

So in front of the committee, Gonzales did his usual performance of I've Got a Secret and got away with it. At one point, he appeared to be ripping off The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Remember the episode where everyone in the newsroom is down because they're told by an expert that they've reached the highest ratings they'll either get? So Mary tells Murray and Ted that his opinion doesn't matter. And what if, before Mr. Fix It came along, a professional newscaster had seen their show while visiting the area and he had said it was one of the best local newscasts he had ever seen. When Lou questions her about the reality of the claim that lifted everyone's spirits, Mary says she didn't say it happen, she said "What if . . ."

So Gonzales doesn't say what happened. He's still tight lipped. But maybe, just maybe, what if, the Bully Boy has authority for the program. Maybe it's like what Woodrow Wilson did. Congress gets all excited and it's left for the Justice Dept. to note, after the testimony, to explain:

A department spokeswoman, Tasia Scolinos, said, "The attorney general's comments today should not be interpreted to suggest the existence or nonexistence of a domestic program or whether any such program would be lawful under the existing legal analysis."

In other words, don't give his non-concrete remarks any weight.

Especially considering that statement, Conyers' remarks should be noted (he accused Gonzales of thumbing his nose at Congress).

It's interesting to examine Gonzales' remarks as well. Such as when he pats himself (we hope on the back) and mentions the conviction of Ahmed Omar Abu Ali -- a conviction based upon a confession signed under torture and denied after the fact. Alberto loves heading the Injustice Department. All his examples are laughable but readers of the paper of record probably won't grasp why. "Is It True?" should be the motto printed on every edition of the paper, not "All the news that's fit to print."

What did he do? He said "I'm not going to rule it out." It's a play on Mary Richards' "What if . . ."

Gonzales, while testifying to the House Judiciary Committee, also went into gangs, not terrorists (or his concept of them), but into gangs. The man either has no idea where he is and what he's supposed to be tlaking about or else he's trying to run out the clock and bore everyone so they won't ask him any questions.

He needs to be forced to answer yes or no as to whether his Justice Department will operate by FISA. If they will not, there is no point in talking about this new law or that new law. Why attempt to pass laws if the administration isn't going to follow them?

FISA is the "exclusive means" for the surrveilance. There's no reason to monkey with it now if the administration is not going to operate by it. (I think there's no reason to change it for the administration period.)

Stonewall Gonzales' performance needs to be noted with another attempt at stonewalling over the illegal spying on US citizens. Molly notes Will Dunham's "Pentagon Admits to More Spying on Peace Activists" (Reuters via Truthout):

The Pentagon said on Wednesday a review launched after revelations that it had collected data on U.S. peace activists found that roughly 260 entries in a classified database of possible terrorist threats should not have been kept there.
But the review reaffirmed the value of the so-called Talon reporting system on potential threats to Pentagon personnel or facilities by international terrorists, said Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon spokesman. He said the Pentagon was putting in place new safeguards and oversight intended to prevent improper information from going in the database.
Whitman said "less than 2 percent" of the more than 13,000 database entries provided through the Talon system "should not have been there or should have been removed at a certain point in time."
Whitman disputed critics' assertions that the program amounted to Pentagon domestic spying, although he declined to state the nature of these entries or the people they involved, saying the database's contents are classified. Whitman stressed that to be properly placed in the database, a threat must have a suspected link to international terrorism.

The paper of record isn't interested in that. They're not interested in covering any of the illegal spying. Maybe they'll offer another editorial (the merits of which others can debate) but in their coverage they found themselves out in the cold and lost interest long ago.

I'm not sure how fair it is to pin blame on Lichtblau. He must know that the Times' not interested in the story (everyone at the paper should know it -- besides friends at the paper, it's been the topic of many e-mails sent to the public address of this site) and he's not given much space today. For a look at the issue that offers context, Martha recommends Dan Eggen's "Warrantless Wiretaps Possible in U.S." in the Washington Post which notes Gonzales' past testimony and includes this section Martha highlighted:

Gonzales previously testified in the Senate that Bush had considered including purely domestic communications in the NSA spying program, but he said the idea was rejected in part because of fears of a public outcry. He also testified at the time that the Justice Department had not fully analyzed the legal issues of such a move.
In yesterday's testimony, Gonzales reiterated earlier hints that there may be another facet to the NSA program that has not been revealed publicly, or even another program that has prompted dissension within the government. While acknowledging disagreements among officials over the monitoring efforts, Gonzales disputed published reports that have detailed the arguments.

Rod notes today's scheduled topic for Democracy Now!:

* Veteran war correspondent Robert Fisk joins us in our firehouse studio

Rachel notes this event today, "WBAI co-hosts: An Evening with Robert Fisk:"

Acclaimed journalist Robert Fisk speaks on War, the Middle East, and journalism
April 7 at the New York Society for Ethical Culture.
Fisk, renowned journalist (UK Independent), and author of Pity the Nation and The Great War for Civilization leads a discussion on war, the legacy of Western intervention in the Middle East, and journalism.
Book signings will follow the event.
FREE. Friday, April 7th at 7PM - Doors open at 6PM. No reservations. First come, first served.
At The New York Society for Ethical Culture: 2 West 64th St @ Central Park West. (Subways to Columbus Circle)
For information please call, 212-874-5210, or visit

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