You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Best Of Tnr 2008: Secrecy And Safety

Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel under the Bush administration, gives an insider perspective on the legality of government sanctioned wiretapping and the possibly dangerous role of the press (citing specifically a 2005-2006 New York Times series of articles) in playing the part of government watchdog: 

And then there are the more diffuse harms caused by the Times' revelations. Once the highly classified programs were disclosed, it became hard for the government to explain its actions without revealing--sometimes inadvertently--related surveillance activities. To take one example, Lichtblau reports that in the course of discussing the Terrorist Surveillance Program, former Senator Bob Graham, who was once the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, revealed that many purely international communications--from, say, Afghanistan to Indonesia-‘transited' through the United States in ways that could easily be detected by the American government. This revelation, Lichtblau says, induced the Times ‘to probe more deeply into areas that were regarded as off limits just a few days earlier,' and led the paper to report on yet more detailed secret surveillance techniques.


Last year Michael McConnell, the national intelligence director, declared that public discussion of American surveillance capabilities ‘means that some Americans are going to die, because we do this mission unknown to the bad guys because they're using a process that we can exploit and the more we talk about it, the more they will go with an alternative means.' McConnell is imprecise here: we cannot now say for sure that we will be hit again, or that the surveillance stories will be a contributing cause. It is more accurate to say that the stories made it easier for terrorists to plan and to execute attacks, and in that sense endangered the physical safety of Americans.

Click here to read the full article.