Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Press Disclosures Help More Than Hurt ; Controversial Stories Often Expose Government Wrongdoing

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Press Disclosures Help More Than Hurt ; Controversial Stories Often Expose Government Wrongdoing

Article excerpt

Government officials have been highly critical of the media's publication of details about US intelligence activities in the war on terror. The two most recent examples are extensive wiretaps by the National Security Agency and US access to international financial transactions.

President Bush called the disclosures "disgraceful." Rep. Peter King (R) of New York said The New York Times should be prosecuted for treason rather than be awarded a Pulitzer prize for the NSA story. Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R) of Arizona is asking that the Times's Congressional press credentials be suspended.

The more important of the two stories that caused this hullabaloo is the one about the NSA, because it exposes government wrongdoing. It has been, and continues, wiretapping American citizens without judicial warrants, a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, which regulates searches and seizures. The wiretaps are puzzling because courts have generally been forthcoming in issuing warrants. Moreover, the NSA has no hope of reading the billions of conversations that it intercepts. What it may be able to do is find a significant number of telephone calls with the same origin and destination numbers, one of which is in a place where Al Qaeda is active. This would perhaps give it a lead to an agent in the US.

But it should not come as a surprise to Al Qaeda that the NSA is capable of doing this. There may not be much Al Qaeda can do about it; maybe encrypt its communications. Or it can use messengers, but that's laborious, time-consuming, and rife with the risk of interceptions. So where is the harm to the national security?

Similarly, the US has no interest in the daily transfers of trillions of dollars in international money. What the US is interested in, if they can be identified, are the transfers to or from terrorist groups. If identified, the government can then take, or try to take, steps to try to cut off the terrorist money supply. If the terrorists know that we know, then they can take steps to keep us from learning more. …

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