I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Why are Bush supporters celebrating today's leak of classified information?

(updated below)

John Amato astutely asks an excellent question: why are all of the Bush supporters celebrating the unauthorized leak to the Daily News of the FBI's arrests of alleged terrorists who were talking in Internet chat rooms about blowing up the Holland Tunnel (later news reports indicated that the plot was really aimed at the PATH commuter train)?

One Bush follower after the next who has been furiously protesting the publication of leaks by the NYT and other newspapers -- almost all of whom has accused the NYT of treason, of providing aid and comfort to their Al Qaeda friends, etc. for reporting leaked classified information -- have written today about this leaked story. But all of them are ecstatic over this story, celebrating it as a great and heroic blow for the Bush administration and as proof that The Terrorists really are the Epic Threat they've been claiming. And almost none of them are protesting the unauthorized leak, let alone calling for the reporters and editors at the Daily News to be sent to gas chambers or put in federal prison for the rest of their lives.

Their celebratory reaction to this leak is particularly noteworthy given that the Daily News article itself acknowledged that its source told it that the leaked law enforcement investigation "is an ongoing operation." And the FBI claims that this leak has jeopardized foreign intelligence sources:

Disclosure of the bomb plot coincided with the one-year anniversary of a terrorist bomb attack on London subways and a bus that killed 52 and injured about 700. Authorities said they hadn't intended to release details about the plot this early and that whoever leaked the information had compromised the FBI's relationship with some foreign intelligence services.

The person who leaked the details is clearly someone who doesn't understand the fragility of international relations,'' Mershon said. "We've had a number of uncomfortable questions and some upsetment (sic) with these foreign intelligence services that had been working with us on a daily basis.''

It is not, of course, merely the leaker who "compromised the FBI's relationship with some foreign intelligence services," but also the Daily News for publishing the story. And yet those who claim to be so offended by leaks from the NYT, along with USA Today and The Washington Post, aren't decrying this leak at all. Instead, they are celebrating it.

The only discernible difference between the leaks of the NYT and this leak is that the NYT leaks (as well as those of USA Today and The Washington Post) resulted in political embarrassment for the President. Those leaks resulted in reports that the President was breaking the law when eavesdropping on American citizens, or creating secret, lawless gulags in Eastern Europe, or compiling massive data bases of all domestic calls placed and received by Americans with no oversight or Congressional authorization. None of those leaked stories depicted the President as a Hero or glorified the administration. They were thus attacked as treasonous by the President's followers.

But this leak to the Daily News glorifies the administration and depicts them as caped crusaders protecting us from evil terrorism. And thus, the President's followers love this leak and their rage towards journalists who publish classified information -- along with their demands that they be imprisoned, or worse -- sure do seem to have evaporated into thin air.

This is not the first time this has happened. There have been plenty of leaks of classified information in the past which reflect well on the administration -- which depict them as our heroic protectors -- and which therefore provoke no protest at all from Bush followers. It is only the leaks which result in political embarrassment for the President that provoke their ire. Their accusations of treason against American journalists and their demands that they be prosecuted and imprisoned have nothing to do with concerns over national security and everything to do with punishing anyone and anything which harms the administration's political interests.

What other proof is required to demonstrate what is really motivating these extremely selective attacks on leaks? Unlike the other leaks (the bad ones which ended up in the treasonous NYT and Washington Post) which resulted in no demonstrable security damage of any kind, this leak to the Daily News at least preliminarily seems to have harmed national security. Yet it also results in potential political benefits for Republicans (and any doubt about tjat will be quickly dispelled by reading the posts linked to above, where this leaked story is immediately exploited to claim that Republicans are right and Democrats wrong about all national security and terrorism matters). Given the political benefits which Bush supporters believe come from this leak, the leak is celebrated -- and exploited -- rather than condemnend by those who relentlessly claim to detest leaks not for any partisan reason but only out of solemn devotion to the security of the United States.

One last point: Anyone arguing that this story is somehow proof that the President was right to engage in illegal eavesdropping or oversight-less monitoring of domestic calls and banking transactions -- and virtually all Bush followers are making that very point -- is indulging rank illogic. The President is fully empowered to eavesdrop on the conversations of terrorists or monitor their banking transactions while complying with the law and with oversight, and nobody argues that he should not be allowed to do that. Thus, anyone arguing that this story illustrates the need for surveillance is fighting a strawman, since nobody is against surveillance.

Nobody is complaining that the President is eavesdropping or monitoring terrorists, only that he refusing to abide by the law and submit to oversight when doing so. Isn't that point well-established enough by now that people ought to be embarrassed to pretend not to know it, and instead to act on the blatantly false premise that Bush critics are opposed to surveillance itself?

UPDATE: The blogger Catnip chronicles more reaction by Bush supporters to this leak, reactions which are conspicuously free of venom towards the Daily News, but which take the opportunity to claim that this constitutes further proof that the ultimate evil lies in the New York Times.

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