January 3, 2018

THE IRON LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES:

THE BIGGEST SECRET : My Life as a New York Times Reporter in the Shadow of the War on Terror (James Risen, January 3 2018, The Intercept)

THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION was successfully convincing the press to hold or kill national security stories, but the government had not yet launched an aggressive campaign to hunt down whistleblowers and target reporters. That all changed with the Valerie Plame case.

In December 2003, the Justice Department appointed Patrick Fitzgerald, then the U.S. attorney in Chicago, to be a special counsel to investigate allegations that top Bush White House officials had illegally leaked Plame's covert identity as a CIA officer. Critics claimed that the Bush White House had sold her out to the press as retribution against her Iraq war critic husband, former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson.

Anti-Bush liberals saw the Valerie Plame case and leak investigation as a proxy fight over the war in Iraq, rather than as a potential threat to press freedom.
Without thinking about the long-term consequences, many in the media cheered Fitzgerald on, urging him to aggressively go after top Bush administration officials to find out who was the source of the leak. Anti-Bush liberals saw the Plame case and the Fitzgerald leak investigation as a proxy fight over the war in Iraq, rather than as a potential threat to press freedom.

Fitzgerald, an Inspector Javert-like prosecutor whose special counsel status meant that no one at the Justice Department could rein him in, started subpoenaing reporters all over Washington and demanding they testify before a grand jury.

There was hardly a murmur of dissent from liberals as Fitzgerald pressed one prominent reporter after another for information. Only Judy Miller went to jail rather than cooperate. (She eventually testified after she received a waiver from her source, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.)

Fitzgerald became famous as a tough, no-nonsense prosecutor, and the fact that he had run roughshod over the Washington press corps didn't hurt his reputation. He went on to become a partner in one of America's premier law firms.

The Plame case eventually faded away, but it had set a dangerous precedent. Fitzgerald had successfully subpoenaed reporters and forced them to testify and in the process, had become the Justice Department's biggest star. He had demolished the political, social, and legal constraints that previously made government officials reluctant to go after journalists and their sources. He became a role model for career prosecutors, who saw that you could rise to the top of the Justice Department by going after reporters and their sources.

White House officials, meanwhile, saw that there wasn't as much political blowback from targeting reporters and conducting aggressive leak investigations as they had expected. The decades old informal understanding between the government and the press -- that the government would only go through the motions on leak investigations -- was dead. [...]

I thought Barack Obama's election would end the case. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema seemed to think so, too. In July 2009, she issued a brief ruling noting that the grand jury in the case had expired, meaning my subpoena was no longer valid. I was surprised when Obama's Justice Department quickly told Brinkema they wanted to renew the subpoena.

In hindsight, this was one of the earliest signals that Obama was determined to extend and even expand many of Bush's national security policies, including a crackdown on whistleblowers and the press.

The reality of war is that we neither mind torturing a few terrorists nor squeezing a few journalists for their sources.  The reality of peace is that it generally turns out not to have been worth it.


Posted by at January 3, 2018 4:00 PM

  

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