Thursday, January 05, 2006

spies, and the spying spiers who spy on them

i've briefly mentioned the NSA scandal that erupted during my vacation: the NSA has been secretly spying on americans without a warrant, which is technically illegal, not to mention unethical and downright scary. when asked about it, bush's excuse was that he didn't need an excuse: his executive privelege gives him the power to do just about anything that he finds necessary. but did you realize that the NSA started this practice even before bush ordered it?

scary stuff. but just who is the govt spying on? people it suspects of having ties to al qaeda, sure. we also know that the FBI has spied on peace activists and other dangerous liberal organizations like indianapolis's own vegan community project. so would it be much of a surprise if the government were also spying on american journalists?

yesterday, americablog's john noticed an unusual question in andrea mitchell's interview with james risen. risen broke the NSA wiretap story in a new book (the release of which allegedly prompted the nytimes to finally report on this story, which it knew about for at least a year). here is the excerpt from the transcript john quoted, emphasis john's:

Mitchell: Do you have any information about reporters being swept up in this net?

Risen: No, I don't. It's not clear to me. That's one of the questions we'll have to look into the future. Were there abuses of this program or not? I don't know the answer to that

Mitchell: You don't have any information, for instance, that a very prominent journalist, Christiane Amanpour, might have been eavesdropped upon?

Risen: No, no I hadn't heard that.

john thought the specific mention of christiane amanpour was a bit suspicious. did andrea mitchell just pull amanpour's name out of her ass as a random example of a journalist the government might want to spy on? or, perhaps, does she know something we don't? does mitchell have specific evidence of the US spying on christiane amanpour?

it was just a bit of speculation based on one sentence in an interview. curious, yes, but the idea would've died down naturally if something else hadn't happened. i noticed this next part myself when i went to read the article: the question about amanpour had been removed from the transcript. i looked and looked, but it just wasn't there.

atrios noticed the same thing. NBC news had edited the transcript to remove the potentially most interesting bit. suddenly there was an apparent coverup, and the idea that mitchell was onto something seemed much more likely. then NBC issued a statement, which only made things even more suspicious:

Unfortunately this transcript was released prematurely. It was a topic on which we had not completed our reporting, and it was not broadcast on 'NBC Nightly News' nor on any other NBC News program. We removed that section of the transcript so that we may further continue our inquiry.

it's a bit vague and doesn't really say anything at all. but the most obvious way to read this statement is that NBC is indeed investigating whether the government is spying on amanpour, and that it didn't want mitchell leaking its scoop just yet.

maybe there's nothing to this at all, and it's just sloppy work by andrea mitchell and NBC. but there's a lot to be concerned about if the US is truly spying on christiane amanpour and other journalists. we already know the govt will spy on people who are clearly no threat (vegans? the catholic workers? come on!), so why wouldn't they want to spy on a reporter who has written about al qaeda and whose husband worked for the kerry campaign?

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