Tomorrow’s New York Times Book Review publishes Walter Isaacson’s review of James Risen’s book exposing the NSA surveillance program that was originally the subject of Risen’s December 16 Times story (with Eric Lichtblau). Isaacson’s review is “Spies and spymasters.” Walter Isaacson is a smart and serious man, but there is a curious lack of definition in his description of the great question lying at the heart of Risen’s book:
[H]ow far should we Americans be willing to go, in terms of permitting things like wiretapping and torture, to fight terrorism? Risen doesn’t seem to think it’s his role to probe too deeply into this. Instead, he appears to feel that if something is secret and interesting, it should be exposed.
That raises some more parochial but still important journalistic questions. When should the press censor itself in deference to national security concerns? And how much should it rely on leaks from anonymous sources?
Like the Times’s voluminous news coverage of the NSA surveillance program, Isaacson’s review omits any mention of the espionage laws or the jeopardy in which they place Risen and the Times. Isaacson to the contrary notwithstanding, the great question lying at the heart of Risen’s book is whether Risen and the Times are citizens subject to the laws of the United States, or a law unto themselves.