Monday, May 15, 2006

Does the Bush administration use phone records to track leaks to the media?

Maybe this is from the just-because-you're-paranoid-doesn't-mean-they're-not-after-you-Department, but today's entry in ABC News' Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross' blog sounds worrying.

Ross writes that he has been warned in personal conversation by a senior law-enforcement official to "get some new cell phones, quick" because the numbers of their existing ones were being tracked. Given the recently uncovered giant NSA phone call database, the administration would be in a position to establish patterns of calls from journalists to officials, providing material for leak investigators.

And perhaps damaging an important function of the media — scrutinizing the government and holding it publicly to account — on the way. Uncovering problems often relies on the activities of "whistleblowers" — both in the public and in the private sector. It is here that personal privacy interfaces with an important function for society as a whole.

Frank Rich, in an op-ed piece in yesterday's New York Times, draws the parallel with the 1971 publication by his newspaper of the "Pentagon Papers" which uncovered lies by the Johnson administration in the Vietnam war. The Nixon administration tried to stop publication, but failed. Today, Rich writes, the situation is similar with regard to the Iraq war:
"The administration's die-hard defenders are desperate to deflect blame for the fiasco, and, guess what, the traitors once again are The Times and The Post. This time the newspapers committed the crime of exposing warrantless spying on Americans by the National Security Agency (The Times) and the C.I.A.'s secret ''black site'' Eastern European prisons (The Post). Aping the Nixon template, the current White House tried to stop both papers from publishing and when that failed impugned their patriotism."
By the way: reading the comments reacting to Ross' entry makes it quite clear that the above analysis is not shared by everyone, to put it mildly...

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