Monday, June 26, 2006

NSA Program Oversight Near?

Senator Specter said on one of the talk shows yesterday that his discussions with the White House have been increasingly centered on submitting the NSA warrantless eavesdrop program to the FISA court for review, reports the NYTimes. Let's just say the devil's definitely in the details on this one and I'll reserve judgment on any deal until I know what it entails.

On another front, Rep. Peter King declared Sunday that he wants "the attorney general to begin a criminal investigation and prosecution of The New York Times, its reporters, the editors that worked on this and the publisher." He's referring to the Times article from last Thursday which revealed widespread monitoring of financial transactions. Asked why he went after only the Times in his comments (the LATimes and WSJ also printed details of the program), King said that the NYT is "more of a recidivist," but that the other newspapers should be investigated too.

In response to criticism about the publication of Thursday's article, Times editor Bill Keller posted a letter to readers on Sunday. It reads in part:

"It's an unusual and powerful thing, this freedom that our founders gave to the press. Who are the editors of The New York Times (or the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and other publications that also ran the banking story) to disregard the wishes of the President and his appointees? And yet the people who invented this country saw an aggressive, independent press as a protective measure against the abuse of power in a democracy, and an essential ingredient for self-government. They rejected the idea that it is wise, or patriotic, to always take the President at his word, or to surrender to the government important decisions about what to publish.

... It's not our job to pass judgment on whether this program is legal or effective, but the story cites strong arguments from proponents that this is the case. While some experts familiar with the program have doubts about its legality, which has never been tested in the courts, and while some bank officials worry that a temporary program has taken on an air of permanence, we cited considerable evidence that the program helps catch and prosecute financers of terror, and we have not identified any serious abuses of privacy so far. A reasonable person, informed about this program, might well decide to applaud it. That said, we hesitate to preempt the role of legislators and courts, and ultimately the electorate, which cannot consider a program if they don't know about it."

I think Congress has got plenty of more important fish to fry and the attorney general much more important things to investigate than the New York Times. The editors there seem to be doing exactly their job, which is more than I can say for Congress most of the time.


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