In their watchdog role of keeping the public informed, the New York Times has over the years disclosed government secrets regarding anti-terrorism tactics, overseas prisons, interrogation tactics, and military tactics, that critics contend have harmed the effectiveness of the programs and put America and our military at greater risk.
In fact, in 2008, the Times even published the name of an interrogator who got Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to talk, against the wishes of the interrogator’s lawyer and the CIA. The interrogator and his family fear for their lives, but that’s okay, because the public has a right to know.
So when Times journalist David Rohde was captured by the Taliban and held for seven months, the Times was going to report that, right? After all, doesn’t the public have a right to know about the threats they may face while traveling in Afghanistan?
As it turns out, the New York Times doesn’t think we do. Mithridate Ombud previously posted on how the Times kept Rohde’s capture secret for seven months and still won’t won’t divulge many details of his capture and escape now that he’s safe.
Bill Keller wrote in a memo today "the consensus of experts we consulted -- and the judgment of the family -- was that a storm of publicity would at best prolong David's captivity by increasing his apparent value, and could well put him in imminent danger." Somehow I think that's a lesson that will be forgotten as soon as someone in a uniform faces the same fate.
Times executive editor Bill Keller said, "The more you talk about who did what ... the more you're writing a playbook for the next kidnapping."
Yes, and the more you talk about how interrogators get information out of terrorists, the more you’re writing a playbook for terrorists to prepare for interrogation. The more you publicize NSA wiretapping techniques or bank monitoring techniques, the more you’re letting the terrorists know how to avoid surveillance.
In defending it’s reporting on the program monitoring bank transactions, the New York Times ombudsman Byron Calame said that the program really wasn’t much of a secret:
”My original support for the article rested heavily on the fact that so many people already knew about the program that serious terrorists also must have been aware of it.”
That, despite the fact that the Times trumpeted the fact that it was a “secret” Bush administration program in both the headline and the text and that it helped capture the most wanted Qaeda figure in Southeast Asia. Apparently there were some “serious terrorists,” such as those on the most wanted list, who were not aware of it to the degree that they could avoid it.
Nonetheless, if the Times wanted to stick by its previous reasoning it could have reported the story of David Rodhe’s kidnapping, because the Times had in the past published stories about the kidnapping of Jill Carroll while she was captive, and Carroll told her story after she was freed, so any “serious terrorist” would already know how to capture a journalist.
The Christian Science Monitor could only keep Carroll’s kidnapping secret for one weekend before it was reported by other media. There were 40 other news outlets that knew about Rohde’s capture, but apparently their editors give more credence to the New York Times than they do to the CIA when approached with concerns for someone’s safety.
The Times’s most egregious violation of personal safety in publishing secrets is the case of CIA interrogator Deuce Martinez. Martinez was instrumental in getting Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to talk, and he didn’t even have to resort to what the Times would consider “torture.”
The Times published the story of Martinez’s history as an interrogator who refused to learn waterboarding and instead chose to “[build] a rapport with the most ruthless of terrorists.”
The Times used his story as a means to question CIA interrogation techniques and wrote about Martinez’s education, employment, and details of his interrogations that would make him identifiable to those he interrogated.
That’s the reward you get from the Times for not waterboarding people.
The Times could have written a story about his interrogation techniques without naming him and without going into his personal life and still gotten across their point about alternatives to enhanced interrogation methods.
But, the Times couldn’t do that, because they put their big story above the safety of those serving our country.
Ombudsman Clark Hoyt said:
Scott Shane, the reporter, and his editors said that using the name was necessary for credibility. Martinez was, after all, the central character in the story. They said that nobody provided evidence that Martinez would be in any greater danger than the scores of others who have been identified in the news media for their roles in the war against Al Qaeda. Those include other former C.I.A. officers, the warden at Guantánamo, military prosecutors, the lawyer who wrote Justice Department memos justifying harsh interrogation techniques, and even a New York Port Authority policeman who helped arrest a terrorist.
Cleaver tact the Times employs there, rationalizing the identification of an interrogator by pointing out that they and other media outlets had already identified other individuals at risk of terrorism. I suppose that would be like someone running a Ponzi scheme then defending him or herself by saying that Bernie Madoff had already done the same thing.
Identifying an interrogator, against the wishes of himself and the CIA, is worse than identifying a journalist already in captivity. Exposing the NSA wiretapping program can be said to be in the public interest because the public may be having their privacy violated, but actually using the name of an interrogator doesn’t serve the public in any justifiable way, even by the Times’s standards. They simply put him and his family at risk for no reason other than to get a big story.
I can only hope that in the future Times gives our military and our intelligence community the same respect for their safety that they give their reporters.