NY Times' Jehl mischaracterized Democratic objections to Bush surveillance program

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

A December 23 New York Times article by Douglas Jehl on the administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program misleadingly suggested that few Democratic congressional leaders objected to the program. Of the seven Democratic lawmakers known to have been briefed about the program, three objected at the time and three more say they weren't given adequate information about it.

In a December 23 New York Times article on the warrantless domestic surveillance program authorized by President Bush and conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA), Douglas Jehl wrote that requests by members of Congress for more information regarding the program "are being complicated by the fact that Congressional leaders in both parties acquiesced in the operation." This statement -- coupled with the article's headline "Among those told of program, few objected" -- are highly misleading. Of the seven Democratic lawmakers known to have been briefed by the program, three objected at the time and three more say they weren't given adequate information about the program.

Additionally, Jehl misstated former Sen. Bob Graham's (D-FL) position on the surveillance program. Jehl wrote that Graham -- who did not object to the program during his time as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- claimed he was "not provided with a complete accounting of the program." In fact, on the December 16 edition of ABC's Nightline, Graham claimed he was not provided with any accounting of the program and maintains he was not told the warrantless eavesdropping program would be directed at U.S. citizens.

Seven Democratic members of Congress are known to have been briefed about the program since 2001: Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA); Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV); Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee; former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD), one-time Senate Democratic leader; former Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-MO), one-time House Democratic leader; and Graham. Despite the Times' headline that "few objected" to the program, Jehl's article made clear that three of the seven lawmakers raised concerns. Jehl wrote that Rockefeller and Pelosi "are known to have expressed written concern about it," and that Daschle "said in an e-mail message on Thursday that he too had expressed 'grave concern for this practice' of eavesdropping on American citizens inside the United States."

In addition to the headline, Jehl's assertion in the article itself -- that "Congressional leaders in both parties acquiesced in the operation" -- is also highly misleading, as the facts Jehl cited bear out. Beyond those who specifically objected, three others say they weren't given enough information to object or approve of the program:

As Jehl reported:

Among the others, Representative Jane Harman of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, acknowledged in a statement this week that she had been briefed about the program since 2003 and regarded it as "essential to U.S. national security." Ms. Harman also said, however, that she was "deeply concerned by reports that this program in fact goes far beyond the measures to target Al Qaeda about which I was briefed."

Jehl then noted: "Ms. Harman, Mr. Reid and Mr. Graham have all suggested in recent days that they were not provided with a complete accounting of the program, and that they might have raised objections if they had understood its scope." Jehl in fact understated what Graham actually said. On ABC's Nightline, Graham claimed that he was not given any indication the program would target Americans: "[T]here was no suggestion that we were going to begin eavesdropping on United States citizens without following the full law. ... There was no reference made to the fact that we were going to use that as the subterfuge to begin unwarranted, illegal, and I think unconstitutional eavesdropping on American citizens."

So, given that three of the seven Democrats known to have received some information about the program raised objections to it, and three more say they weren't given enough to assess it, how exactly can Jehl assert that congressional Democrats "acquiesced in the operation?"

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying
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