Rove vs. leakers (and the New York Times)

ROVE VS. LEAKERS (AND THE NEW YORK TIMES)…. It was par for the course last week when Karl Rove, speaking at Loyola Marymount University as part of its “First Amendment Week,” boasted, “I love how the last eight years, this White House, the Bush White House, was criticized for being tight-lipped. We didn’t leak.” Given the Plame scandal, the irony is rich.

But I was just as interested to read excerpts from Rove’s speech, and notice his ongoing criticism of the New York Times for exposing the Bush administration’s warrantless-search program.

“Secrecy and confidentiality are necessary for every government, especially when you’re at war.

“Most citizens don’t want our plans to stop an enemy attack splashed on the front pages of the newspaper. So when the New York Times took it upon itself to describe an intelligence program that used electronic means of communication and information-gathering … by which we listen in to the electronic communications of our enemy abroad — their satellite phones, their Internet messages, anything of an electronic nature. When the New York Times let it be known that we were doing this, it put America and our allies at risk.

“Because by sharing this vital secret, we telegraphed to the enemy: Don’t you be sending e-mails, because virtually every e-mail in the world passes through a U.S. network, and we’ll grab it.

“Don’t you be using a satellite telephone to communicate about your plans to attack Americans or our friends or allies, because we may be listening in.

“Don’t be using a cellphone, because we might have found some guy on a battlefield somewhere and gone through his pockets. They call it pocket litter. When we kill somebody on the battlefield, every piece of paper, every document, every item on their body is collected and analyzed, and that information goes into a gigantic database. … So don’t be using that cellphone to communicate your plans because we might be listening in on it.”

Now, we’re long past the point at which it’s productive to re-litigate the value of a program that empowers the federal government to access U.S. communications without a warrant. But reviewing Rove’s complaint against the NYT, I’m struck by the sweeping nature of the message to terrorists abroad.

To hear Rove tell it, the New York Times effectively told al Qaeda that it can no longer communicate by way of telephones, cellphones, satellite phones, emails, or apparently any kind of electronic communication.

I’m curious — what does that leave the terrorists? Smoke signals? Carrier pigeons?

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation