At US gov request, NYT's Bill Keller spiked NSA spying story in 2004

Edward Snowden is seen on a screen as he speaks via video conference with members of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe during an hearing on "mass surveillance" in Strasbourg, April 8, 2014.


Edward Snowden is seen on a screen as he speaks via video conference with members of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe during an hearing on "mass surveillance" in Strasbourg, April 8, 2014.

"United States of Secrets," a new PBS Frontline airing tonight, explores 'the dramatic inside story of the U.S. government’s massive and controversial secret surveillance program—and the lengths they went to trying to keep it hidden from the public.'

Part of that story is highlighted on PRI's 'The World' radio show today. After 9/11, the National Security Agency wanted new ways to spy on electronic interactions in the US. "The Program, as it was called, spied on telephones, Internet connections, metadata from emails and almost every form of electronic communication."

But when The Program began, there were people in the NSA and others who questioned its legality, including Department of Justice attorney Thomas Tamm. His father and uncle worked at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. There’s even a photo of 8-year-old Tamm with J. Edgar Hoover. Tamm worked at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and authorized warrants. And he saw items coming across his desk of investigations and snooping that lacked probable cause. He started to wonder how the NSA was getting the information.

He asked around, but many don’t want to talk about it. His colleagues felt like something illegal was going on. “He sees this and says, ‘There is something not very kosher here, I don’t know what exactly is going on,’ and begins to worry about it,” Kirk recounts.

Tamm claims he tried to blow the whistle on the subject, working with New York Times reporter James Risen to make the story public. But Risen’s editors decided to run the story by the government. They wanted to get the government’s take, before the Times revealed “The Program.” Kirk says top White House officials made three arguments to Times editors, in trying to convince them not to run the story.

1. It’s completely legal.

2. It’s a vulnerable secret. If you reveal it, hundreds of thousands of Americans may die in a future attack.

3. It’s working. You wouldn’t believe the threats we’re stopping.

Former Editor Bill Keller spiked the story, outraging Risen.

Notable Replies

  1. The greatest Ally of our clandestine services, is a free press that reports upon their failings willfully, rabidly, and without fail. And together those fueding giants would bring a better world to bear for us all.

    The NY Times has failed all too often as of late to bear out their brands historical recognition. And so they have tarnished their own name. And so they fall into the ashes of history to be another data set for librarians to mull over how to sort.

  2. One more validation for my decision to cancel my NYT subscription two years ago....

  3. KELLLLLLLLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!

  4. Yep! And I didn't think anything could lower my opinion of Keller any farther...

  5. As much as I long for the day that Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, and Yoo are all locked up in a dank dungeon in The Hague, it's not like Obama is any better with respect to mass surveillance. The crimes continue, only now they have patina of bipartisan consensus and respectability.

Continue the discussion bbs.boingboing.net

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