NY Times Twists Terrorist Surveillance Into 'Domestic Eavesdropping'

This week the New York Times took every opportunity to mislead on the nature of the terrorist-surveillance program, triggered by Wednesday's announcement by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) would have jurisdiction over the program that eavesdrops on international calls of people in the U.S. suspected of terrorist ties.

Thursday's lead story by intelligence reporters Eric Lichtblau and David Johnston is "Court To Oversee U.S. Wiretapping In Terror Cases -- Shift By The Government -- Justice Dept. Cites Accord Speeding Warrants for Domestic Listening."

In that subhead, the Times again employs the misleading term "domestic" to describe the effort to monitor communication between people inside the U.S. and suspected terrorists abroad -- as if the program were monitoring calls between Americans, when in fact it monitors international calls from people in the U.S. who aren't necessarily U.S. citizens.

"The Bush administration, in a surprise reversal, said on Wednesday that it had agreed to give a secret court jurisdiction over the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program and would end its practice of eavesdropping without warrants on Americans suspected of ties to terrorists."

The Times lazily implies American citizens are regularly being wiretapped, not simply people who are inside the U.S.. The story later clarifies: "The Justice Department said it had worked out an 'innovative' arrangement with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that provided the 'necessary speed and agility' to provide court approval to monitor international communications of people inside the United States without jeopardizing national security."

Reporter Scott Shane's "News Analysis," "White House Retreats Under Pressure," though quite unsympathetic to the Bush position, at least characterizes it accurately in the lead sentence: "The Bush administration’s abrupt abandonment on Wednesday of its program to eavesdrop inside the United States without court approval is the latest in a series of concessions to Congress, the courts and public opinion that have dismantled major elements of its strategy to counter the terrorist threat."

But Shane also drops this misleading line: "The full details of the new approach to the domestic eavesdropping program have not been publicly disclosed."

Legal correspondent Adam Liptak's front-page "news analysis," "The White House as a Moving Legal Target," opens with just such a statement:

"In a four-paragraph letter on Wednesday announcing that the Bush administration had reversed its position and would submit its domestic surveillance program to judicial supervision, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales used one phrase three times. A secret court, he said, had fashioned a way to allow the program to be monitored by the judiciary without compromising the need for “speed and agility.”

Intelligence reporters David Johnston and Scott Shane make the same mistake in today's report from Capitol Hill, "Senators Demand Details on New Eavesdropping Rules."

"Lawmakers demanded more information on new rules for governing a domestic surveillance program on Thursday, a day after the Bush administration announced that it had placed the National Security Agency eavesdropping under court supervision."

For more New York Times bias, visit TimesWatch.

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