As reported by the MRC’s Brent Baker, the media are in full dudgeon over new revelations of a secret eavesdropping, antiterrorism strategy by the White House. However, there are some key elements of this story that the president just discussed in his weekly radio address as reported by the Associated Press that The New York Times and others either neglected to share with the public, or downplayed in their reports:
“Bush said the program was narrowly designed and used ‘consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution.’ He said it is used only to intercept the international communications of people inside the United States who have been determined to have ‘a clear link’ to al-Qaida or related terrorist organizations.”
In a post-9/11 world, this does seem to be a reasonable strategy to avert further terrorist attacks. Wouldn’t most Americans wish that the 9/11 hijackers all had their “international communications” intercepted regardless of the existence of a court order to do so?
“The program is reviewed every 45 days, using fresh threat assessments, legal reviews by the Justice Department, White House counsel and others, and information from previous activities under the program, the president said.
“Without identifying specific lawmakers, Bush said congressional leaders have been briefed more than a dozen times on the program's activities.”
The article continued: “Appearing angry at points during his eight-minute address, Bush said he had reauthorized the program more than 30 times since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and plans to continue doing so.”
It seems logical that after twelve months, proper research and vetting would have identified the number of times that the president had apprised Congress of this strategy, as well as how often it was reauthorized. Yet, in the 3,300-word Times article that started all this hoopla, Congressional oversight was depicted as: “The officials said the administration had briefed Congressional leaders about the program and notified the judge in charge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret Washington court that deals with national security issues.” This is a far cry from the president’s claims in his radio address this morning as paraphrased by AP that “The program is reviewed every 45 days,” “congressional leaders have been briefed more than a dozen times on the program's activities,” and “he had reauthorized the program more than 30 times since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.”
The AP article concluded:
“The president had harsh words for those who talked about the program to the media, saying their actions were illegal and improper.
“‘As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have,’ he said. ‘The unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk.’"
This is addressed in a couple of instances in the Times article, including in one of the final paragraphs: “The administration also feared that by publicly disclosing the existence of the operation, its usefulness in tracking terrorists would end, officials said.”
This raises an important question: What suddenly overrode the Times’ reasonable and legitimate concerns for national security issues that lead it to release this story yesterday after keeping it under wraps for twelve months?