Wash. Times' MacKinnon claimed that Pulitzer-winning NY Times reporters who exposed NSA spying "hurt the United States dramatically"

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

Washington Times columnist Douglas MacKinnon repeated his claim that the December 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning report by The New York Times on the National Security Agency warrantless domestic spying program "hurt the United States dramatically." In making the statement, MacKinnon assumed two things: 1) that the program had been effective before the Times article appeared, and 2) that suspected terrorists altered their conduct after the article. MacKinnon added: "I'm not convinced that if they [the Times reporters] didn't have the information for D-Day on June 6, 1944, they wouldn't have revealed that as well."

During a discussion about the recent Pulitzer Prize awards on the April 24 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Washington Times columnist Douglas MacKinnon repeated his claim, first made in his April 21 Washington Times column, that the December 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning report by The New York Times on the National Security Agency warrantless domestic spying program "hurt the United States dramatically" and is "criminal in every way, shape, and form." In making the claim, MacKinnon assumed two things: 1) that the program had been effective before the Times article appeared, and 2) that suspected terrorists altered their conduct after the article. MacKinnon offered no support for either assumption. Further, MacKinnon added, "I'm not convinced that if" the reporters who wrote the story, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, "didn't have the information for D-Day on June 6, 1944, they wouldn't have revealed that as well."

As The New York Times revealed on December 16, 2005, President Bush issued a secret presidential order shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on phone and email communications that originate from or are received within the United States and to do so without the court approval normally required under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

In fact, contrary to MacKinnon's suggestion that the program of eavesdropping on suspected terrorist calls without obtaining a warrant has been effective in tracking down suspected terrorists, as Media Matters 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." Similarly, 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 warrantless domestic surveillance program "led to dead ends or innocent Americans."

Further, as Media Matters has previously noted, Al Qaeda has reportedly been taking precautions to avoid surveillance of its cell phone conversations for years, notably through the use of untraceable disposable cell phones. For example, ABC News reported on January 12, in a story about bulk purchases of disposable cell phones in the United States, that Al Qaeda used disposable cell phones in its March 2004 bombings in Spain. Additionally, an October 17, 2002, USA Today article indicated Al Qaeda's awareness of the issue and its implementation of countermeasures against NSA eavesdropping. USA Today stated: "The NSA faces new obstacles in penetrating al-Qaeda because the terror group has learned how to evade U.S. interception technology -- chiefly by using disposable cell phones or by avoiding phones altogether and substituting human messengers and face-to-face meetings to convey orders." Media Matters has also noted that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden reportedly stopped using his satellite phone within days of the August 20, 1998, U.S. attack on Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.

In his April 21 Washington Times column, MacKinnon asserted that the prize-winning New York Times report "can only bring aid and comfort to al Qaeda and other terrorists who mean to destroy us and our allies." Of the Pulitzer-winning reporting by The Washington Post's Dana Priest on the CIA's alleged use of secret interrogation sites across the globe, MacKinnon wrote: "Who benefited from this 'Pulitzer Prize Winning Reporting?' Terrorists who mean to kill everyone in the United States." MacKinnon further claimed that the Pulitzer committee "uses a liberal checklist" as a basis for handing out awards.

From the April 24 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: Thanks for staying with us. I'm Bill O'Reilly. In the "Personal Story" segment tonight, this year Pulitzer Prizes were given to journalists who exposed secret CIA prisons in Europe, places where alleged Al Qaeda were kept for questioning, the NSA eavesdropping situation and a bunch of other stories that some believe damage the war on terror.

[...]

O'REILLY: So there you have it. These are the people voting on the Pulitzer Prize. Is the fix in? Has the Pulitzer Prize become a left-wing award? Joining us now is a man who believes that's the case. Douglas MacKinnon wrote a column about it for the conservative Washington Times. So your thesis is the column, and correct me if I'm wrong, is that some of these stories that won for the Pulitzer -- the rendition story in Europe where this secret CIA prisons were and the NSA eavesdropping -- actually hurt Americans in the war on terror, correct?

MacKINNON: That's right, Bill. I mean, if you read that, it's criminal in every way, shape, and form. They betrayed the country, and not only did these -- whoever U.S. government employees, obviously, Mary McCarthy, potentially for the CIA, who should be in prison right now, and I don't know why she's not, but -- and then others that as the investigation goes forward. But these -- the government employees then betrayed the trust of the U.S. government by revealing top secret information. Now, I used to have a top-secret clearance at the Pentagon. Once they do that, reporters, be they at The New York Times, The Washington Post, other places, and take those stories and splash them on the front page of their papers -- I'm not convinced that if they didn't have the information for D-Day on June 6, 1944, they wouldn't have revealed that as well.

[...]

MacKINNON: Here's the question. OK, Bill, these people are journalists -- let's look at James Risen of The New York Times. Let's look at Dana Priest of The Washington Post. Both broke these stories that I believe hurt the United States dramatically, and yet neither one of them as journalists will then explain why they did it. All of a sudden, what really bothers me, as someone who works in the field of journalism from time to time too, is once a journalist gets caught doing something wrong, especially a left-of-center journalist, they immediately say no comment and they won't talk you to.

O'REILLY: I think their editors shut them down, and the editors of both newspapers said, "Look, our people are keeping an eye on the government. These are stories that the folks should know about." And that is their point of view, and they believe it, that's for sure. Mr. MacKinnon.

MacKINNON: It's hurting the country.

O'REILLY: Thanks very much. We appreciate it.

MacKINNON: You bet.

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