Citing no evidence, NY Post claimed decline in "terrorist calls" being monitored following disclosure of NSA program

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

In an editorial condemning The New York Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting on the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program, the New York Post asserted that "[e]ver since" Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau revealed the existence of the program on December 16, 2005, "federal officials have reported a dropoff in the terrorist calls they were monitoring." The Post did not name the purported "federal officials," nor did it provide evidence or elaboration to support the claim.

In an April 24 editorial condemning The New York Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting on the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program, the New York Post asserted that "[e]ver since" Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau revealed the existence of the program on December 16, 2005, "federal officials have reported a dropoff in the terrorist calls they were monitoring." The Post did not name the purported "federal officials," nor did it provide evidence or elaboration to support the claim.

In addition, the Post's suggestion that the surveillance program actually monitored "terrorist calls" has been disputed by media reports. As Media Matters for America has noted, The Washington Post reported on February 5 that according to "current and former government officials and private-sector sources," intelligence officers used the program to eavesdrop "on thousands of Americans in overseas calls" but "dismissed nearly all of them as potential suspects after hearing nothing pertinent to a terrorist threat":

Intelligence officers who eavesdropped on thousands of Americans in overseas calls under authority from President Bush have dismissed nearly all of them as potential suspects after hearing nothing pertinent to a terrorist threat, according to accounts from current and former government officials and private-sector sources with knowledge of the technologies in use.

Bush has recently described the warrantless operation as "terrorist surveillance" and summed it up by declaring that "if you're talking to a member of al Qaeda, we want to know why." But officials conversant with the program said a far more common question for eavesdroppers is whether, not why, a terrorist plotter is on either end of the call. The answer, they said, is usually no.

Fewer than 10 U.S. citizens or residents a year, according to an authoritative account, have aroused enough suspicion during warrantless eavesdropping to justify interception of their domestic calls, as well. That step still requires a warrant from a federal judge, for which the government must supply evidence of probable cause.

The Bush administration refuses to say -- in public or in closed session of Congress -- how many Americans in the past four years have had their conversations recorded or their e-mails read by intelligence analysts without court authority. Two knowledgeable sources placed that number in the thousands; one of them, more specific, said about 5,000.

Also, a January 17 New York Times article reported that, according to "current and former officials," "virtually all" of the tips provided by the National Security Agency (NSA) to the FBI under the surveillance program "led to dead ends or innocent Americans."

From the New York Post's April 24 editorial, "No Oscar for Claudia":

James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times won the "National Reporting" award "for their carefully sourced stories on secret domestic eavesdropping that stirred a national debate on the boundary line between fighting terrorism and protecting civil liberty." (Ever since, federal officials have reported a dropoff in the terrorist calls they were monitoring.)

Long gone are the days when journalists paid respect to the notion of national security. Now, journalism's most prestigious awards seem to encourage the opposite: undermining national security for the sake of individual self-aggrandizement.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying
Network/Outlet
New York Post
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