Sometimes the CIA or the director of national intelligence or the NSA or the White House will call about a story. You hit the brakes, you hear the arguments, and it’s always a balancing act: the importance of the information to the public versus the claim of harming national security. Over time, the government too reflexively said to the Times, “you’re going to have blood on your hands if you publish X,” and because of the frequency of that, the government lost a little credibility. But you do listen and seriously worry. Editors are Americans too. We don’t want to help terrorists.
Jill Abramson, former Executive Editor of The New York Times, to Cosmopolitan. I’m Not Ashamed of Being Fired.
In a Q&A with Cosmo, Abramson talks about life after the Times and offers good advice to young journos. For example:
I taught at Yale for five years when I was managing editor and what I tried to stress for students interested in journalism, rather than picking a specialty, like blogging or being a videographer, was to master the basics of really good storytelling, have curiosity and a sense of how a topic is different than a story, and actually go out and witness and report. If you hone those skills, you will be in demand, as those talents are prized. There is too much journalism right now that is just based on people scraping the Internet and riffing off something else.
It all comes back to storytelling.
Seven months ago, the world began to learn the vast scope of the National Security Agency’s reach into the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the globe, as it collects information about their phone calls, their email messages, their friends and contacts, how they spend their days and where they spend their nights. The public learned in great detail how the agency has exceeded its mandate and abused its authority, prompting outrage at kitchen tables and at the desks of Congress, which may finally begin to limit these practices…
…All of this is entirely because of information provided to journalists by Edward Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who stole a trove of highly classified documents after he became disillusioned with the agency’s voraciousness. Mr. Snowden is now living in Russia, on the run from American charges of espionage and theft, and he faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life looking over his shoulder.
Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community…
When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government.
New York Times Editorial. Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower.
FJP: First, good on The New York Times.
Second, as the Times points out, Snowden’s been charged with two violations of the Espionage Act “involving unauthorized communication of classified information, and a charge of theft of government property.”
While the editorial suggests Snowden should receive clemency or, at the very least, a reduced sentence compared to the decades he faces under the current charges, take a look at the Freedom of the Press Foundation’s analysis of what Snowden would be able to present in his defense should he wind up in court. Basically, nothing:
If Edward Snowden comes back to the US to face trial, he likely will not be able to tell a jury why he did what he did, and what happened because of his actions. Contrary to common sense, there is no public interest exception to the Espionage Act. Prosecutors in recent cases have convinced courts that the intent of the leaker, the value of leaks to the public, and the lack of harm caused by the leaks are irrelevant—and are therefore inadmissible in court…
…[I]n Snowden’s case, the administration will be able to exclude almost all knowledge beneficial to his case from a jury until he’s already been found guilty of felonies that will have him facing decades, if not life, in jail.
This would mean Snowden could not be able to tell the jury that his intent was to inform the American public about the government’s secret interpretations of laws used to justify spying on millions of citizens without their knowledge, as opposed to selling secrets to hostile countries for their advantage.
If the prosecution had their way, Snowden would also not be able to explain to a jury that his leaks sparked more than two dozen bills in Congress, and half a dozen lawsuits, all designed to rein in unconstitutional surveillance. He wouldn’t be allowed to explain how his leaks caught an official lying to Congress, that they’ve led to a White House review panel recommending forty-six reforms for US intelligence agencies, or that they’ve led to an unprecedented review of government secrecy.
Chilling, and worthwhile to keep in mind when people say he should return from Russia and make his case to court.
Via The New York Times:
This just in: we made a mistake – 136 years ago.
It was in a Jan. 9, 1877 article about a police officer shot by a saloon burglar.
The Times called him Officer McDonnell.
His name was McDowell.
The error came to light when we researched a correction to a recent article about the history of the New York Yankees logo.
The record is now set straight.
FJP: We give the Times a pass but presume this caught mistake won’t be the last.
The intelligence community has worried about ‘going dark’ forever, but today they are conducting instant, total invasion of privacy with limited effort. This is the golden age of spying.
Paul Kocher, president and chief scientist of Cryptography Research, in an interview about the NSA’s ability to crack mobile and Internet encryption technologies in order to eavesdrop on online communications and other activities. ProPublica, Revealed: The NSA’s Secret Campaign to Crack, Undermine Internet Security.
The News: The Guardian, The New York Times and ProPublica have partnered on the Edward Snowden NSA leaks to reveal that “the NSA has secretly and successfully worked to break many types of encryption, the widely used technology that is supposed to make it impossible to read intercepted communications.”
Key Takeaway, Part 01: “For the past decade, NSA has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies… [Now] vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable.”
Key Takeaway, Part 02: “Some of the agency’s most intensive efforts have focused on the encryption in universal use in the United States, including Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL; virtual private networks, or VPNs; and the protection used on fourth-generation, or 4G, smartphones.”
Key Takeaway, Part 03: “Beginning in 2000, as encryption tools were gradually blanketing the Web, the NSA invested billions of dollars in a clandestine campaign to preserve its ability to eavesdrop. Having lost a public battle in the 1990s to insert its own “back door” in all encryption, it set out to accomplish the same goal by stealth.”
FJP: “Stealth” is an interesting word choice here. The reason for that is that back in the 90s, the NSA wanted backdoor access to encryption technologies via what it called the Clipper Chip. Proposed during the Clinton administration, and debated publicly, the effort went nowhere with critics pointing out the obvious privacy concerns as well as the economic concerns of US companies being required to allow intelligence agencies access to its encryption technologies. (Read: why would any foreign entity — government, business, individual or otherwise — choose a US technology solution that it knew wasn’t secure?)
As Techdirt notes, “That fight ended with the NSA losing… and now it appears that they just ignored that and effectively spent the past few decades doing the same exact thing, but in secret.”
Very Interesting Aside, Part 01: “Intelligence officials asked The Times and ProPublica not to publish this article, saying that it might prompt foreign targets to switch to new forms of encryption or communications that would be harder to collect or read. The news organizations removed some specific facts but decided to publish the article because of the value of a public debate about government actions that weaken the most powerful tools for protecting the privacy of Americans and others.”
Very Interesting Aside, Part 02: ProPublica explains why it published the story.