I discussed the unclassified report of the Inspectors General on the NSA terrorist eavesdropping program here and here. I found the New York Times story on the IGs’ report by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, who had exposed the highly classified program in the Times on December 16, 2005, to be ludicrously dishonest.
Having blown the NSA program, Risen and Lichtblau (and the Times itself) have a vested interest in minimizing the damage that their own reporting has done to the national security of the United States. It was an interest that manifested itself in the peculiarly misleading summary Risen and Lichtblau provided for the section of the IGs’ report discussing the NSA program’s effectiveness. For example, Risen and Lilchtblau omitted this assessment of the program by former NSA head, former Director of Central Intelligence and former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden:
Hayden said the [NSA program] information allowed [Intelligence Community] leaders to make valuable judgments regarding the allocation of scarce national security resources. Hayden described the [program] as an “early warning system” for terrorist threats. Hayden told the ODNI OIG that the [program] was extremely valuable in protecting the United States from an al-Qaida attack. He cited several examples of where he said the [program} information was used to disrupt al-Qaida operatives or assist in terrorism investigations.
Yesterday the Times published General Hayden’s column on the NSA program under the heading “Warrantless criticism.” General Hayden’s quoted statement in the IGs’ report comports with this assessment in the column:
The program was crucial in addressing one of the most stinging criticisms of the 9/11 commission — the need to reduce the gap between foreign intelligence and domestic security. This was an especially difficult task, which helps explain both the program’s importance and its sensitivity. The program was lawful, effective and necessary.
The column is interesting in its entirety, and it is commendable that the Times published it. Read against the backdrop of the IGs’ report, however, the column reflects General Hayden’s extraordinary tact. Readers of the Times will have to look elsewhere to learn specifically that the program was used to disrupt al-Qaida operatives and assist in terrorism investigations, and they will have to have long memories to recall the Times’s role in blowing the program.