Balkinization  

Monday, May 15, 2006

A Lot of Reporters Must Be Calling Al Qaeda

JB

ABC News reports that "the government is tracking the phone numbers [reporters] call in an effort to root out confidential sources." Apparently the Bush Administration is upset at leaks revealing that it has been spying on Americans and wants to put a stop to the revelations.

The President explained a few days ago that the NSA was data mining phone numbers of domestic calls solely in order to determine who was making contact with terrorist organizations.

[T]he privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities. We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans. Our efforts are focused on links to al-Qaida and their known affiliates. So far we've been very successful in preventing another attack on our soil.

Unless reporters and members of the nation's intelligence services are all in league with Al Qaeda, it appears that the government mines phone records of American citizens for far more than this.

Should one be surprised that the Administration has been less than honest about this point, and that its surveillance activities are aimed at members of the press? The question answers itself.


Comments:

Yeah, maybe now that their ox is being gored, they'll quit cutting this administration so much slack.
 

Jack, would it surprise you to know that the federal government routinely engages in wiretapping of those suspected of criminal wrongdoing? Now, they usually get a warrant, but the wiretapping happens.

Did you, when you heard the president's explanation, believe that the federal government was no longer using these tools against anyone but al Qaeda? That'd be an odd conclusion, wouldn't it? I mean, the president seems to be referring to a particular program, and not the more general law enforcement efforts of the federal government.

Ah, but perhaps you suspect that this "report"--which, as it happens, isn't a report, but a post on a blog--doesn't relate to ordinary law enforcement investigations, subject to the usual legal protections, but is instead somehow related to the NSA program we've all heard so much about. But what evidence for that position is there? None.
 

Tommy my boy, if you have so little interest in the rule of law, why'd you become a lawyer?
 

Jack, would it surprise you to know that the federal government routinely engages in wiretapping of those suspected of criminal wrongdoing? Now, they usually get a warrant, but the wiretapping happens.

Undoubtedly they do. But (a) the government is NOT alleged to have wiretapped anyone, (b) the reporters are not suspected of criminal wrongdoing, the sources are, and (c) that pesky warrant issue.

Did you, when you heard the president's explanation, believe that the federal government was no longer using these tools against anyone but al Qaeda?

In light of a, b, and c, above, this is pretty silly.

Ah, but perhaps you suspect that this "report"--which, as it happens, isn't a report, but a post on a blog--doesn't relate to ordinary law enforcement investigations, subject to the usual legal protections, but is instead somehow related to the NSA program we've all heard so much about. But what evidence for that position is there? None.

You mean none other than the pretty obvious fact that what the government allegedly did here -- track the phone numbers reporters were calling -- is exactly what the NSA was alleged yesterday to have done to most of the people in the whole country? Nah, other than that we got nothin'.
 

Let's keep in mind that there is no generalized statute making it a crime to leak classified information. The mere fact that something classified has been leaked, without more, does not justify a criminal investigation.
 

And who decides who is an "innocent American"? The Great Decider? His efforts are "focused" on al_Qaida, but exclusively? Bush chooses his words carefully.
 

Fortunately, Brian Ross has posted again on this topic, and the follow-up post strongly suggests that Jack and Mark had it wrong in every respect.

Not surprisingly, I should add.
 

Does anyone believe that authorities used these records to track the leakers in the Plame case? Maybe Fitzgerald could subpoena those records to aid in his investigation. Wouldn't that be ironic.
 

Dream on, Thomas. The new story suggests that the FBI is using "National Security Letters," glorified administrative subpoenas, to investigate journalists.

Needless to say, the feds' protecting themselves against the leaking of their secret wrongdoing is NOT what the Patriot Act was supposed to be about.

Will "Patriot Act" be to a later generation what "Alien & Sedition Acts" was to ours?
 

Thomas: “Fortunately, Brian Ross has posted again on this topic, and the follow-up post strongly suggests that Jack and Mark had it wrong in every respect.”

Um, no. Based on the information available, Prof. Balkin’s analysis isn’t incorrect. New information has appeared? Fine, Prof. Balkin’s analysis needs to be updated, something completely different.

By the way, here’s the link to the new info: http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2006/05/fbi_acknowledge.html

So, it seems that reporter’s calls aren’t tracked in real-time, but only back-tracked, pursuant to a National Security Letter. Who issues one of these? A judge? Naah, too cumbersome. It’s much better (thanks Patriot Act!) that the same Administration that is suspect of breaking the law takes care of the paperwork and decides by itself who’s putting national security at risk.

Freedom of the press? Due process? Secondary, disposable values. The circle (or, rather, the slipknot) closes around democracy’s neck.
 

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