"Spies Prep Reporters on Protecting Secrets" b Josh Gerstein/New York Sun September 27, 2007
Frustrated by press leaks about its most sensitive electronic surveillance work, the secretive National Security Agency convened an unprecedented series of off-the-record "seminars" in recent years to teach reporters about the damage caused by such leaks and to discourage reporting that could interfere with the agency's mission to spy on America's enemies.
[Or, for that matter, Americans! -- Mike Rivero, whatreallyhappened.com.
Of course, I agree!]
The half-day classes featured high-ranking NSA officials highlighting objectionable passages in published stories and offering "an innocuous rewrite" that officials said maintained the "overall thrust" of the articles but omitted details that could disclose the agency's techniques, according to course outlines obtained by The New York Sun.
Dubbed "SIGINT 101," using the NSA's shorthand for signals intelligence, the seminar was presented "a handful of times" between approximately 2002 and 2004, an agency spokeswoman, Marci Green, confirmed yesterday. Officials were pleased with the program, she said.
"They believe they were very successful in being able to talk to journalists regarding our mission and the sensitivities of our mission in an unclassified way," Ms. Green said.
The syllabi make clear that the sessions, which took place at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Md., were conceived of not merely as familiarization tours, but as part of a campaign to limit the damage caused by leaks of sensitive intelligence.
"Course Objective: to convey the fragility of SIGINT and to increase editors' and reporters' understanding that there are other ways to express similar thoughts in an article without compromising the story and without compromising SIGINT," the syllabi said.
The NSA's seminars, delivered over tea and pastries, and accompanied by a clip from "Top Gun," seemed designed to elicit a chummy atmosphere and to highlight commonalities between reporters and the agency's electronic sleuths. "Reporters go to great lengths to protect their sources, as do we," one talking point for the classes said. "We need your help."
Journalists were also treated to technical demonstrations and encouraged to feel that they had gotten a rare behind-the-scenes view of the agency. "Stress that this is the first-ever such course in NSA's history," another talking point said. During one sensitive discussion, journalists were to be told they could not take any notes.
Among the news stories singled out for redrafting by the NSA were an Associated Press rewrite of a 1999 USA Today article by Jack Kelley reporting that officials used a "reconnaissance satellite" to intercept Osama bin Laden's telephone calls and head off six attacks on American embassies, a 1998 Knight Ridder dispatch by Neely Tucker reporting that an "exhaustive review of electronic intercepts of the traffic on bin Laden's communications network" picked up evidence of his involvement in the bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and a 1998 New York Times story by Steven Lee Myers reporting that a Pentagon warning about a possible attack on American interests in the Persian Gulf was prompted by "eavesdropping on conversations between Mr. bin Laden" and his cohorts.
The exact substitutions of language that the NSA proposed were deleted from the syllabi released to the Sun under the Freedom of Information Act. The agency did leave in the caveat that it was "neither confirming nor denying the accuracy" of the reports it used as examples.
Mr. Tucker, the author of the Knight Ridder story, said in an interview yesterday that he was never invited to the course and never knew the NSA had a problem with the report. "Nobody ever said a word," he said. Mr. Tucker, who now writes for the Washington Post, noted that he was in Africa at the time and that the passage probably originated with another reporter in Washington.
Told of his involvement in the NSA seminar, he said, "Always glad to help NSA any way I can."
Mr. Myers did not respond to a phone message yesterday seeking comment. Mr. Kelley, who quit USA Today in 2004 amid a probe into fabricated stories, could not be reached.
Ms. Green said the program stopped in late 2004 due to staffing changes at the NSA's public affairs operation.
In 2005, following the publication of a New York Times story on a secret program for warrantless wiretapping of some phone calls placed or received in America, the Bush administration's attitude toward leaks became far more confrontational. Director of Central Intelligence Porter Goss crusaded against leaks at the CIA and later told a Senate committee that he hoped reporters would be called before grand juries to identify their sources. Attorney General Gonzales also discussed the "possibility" of prosecuting journalists who wrote stories based on leaked intelligence.
The syllabi, which are marked as drafts, list presenters including the director of the NSA at the time, General Michael Hayden, the agency's general counsel, Robert Deitz, and the head of the signals intelligence division, Maureen Baginski.
Ms. Baginski, who left NSA in 2003 and is now in the private sector, said yesterday that she had no recollection of making such a presentation. Told of the rewriting element of the class, she chuckled and said, "It's an interesting approach."
The Sun obtained the syllabi in response to a Freedom of Information Act request regarding an investigation into leaks about NSA intercepts that may have presaged the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The released course materials contain no obvious reference to those leaks, but they may have been mentioned in portions of the syllabus the NSA deleted from the released copy."Remember the Lincoln Group?
The outfit the Pentagon paid to write feel-good stories about Iraq?
They are still doing it; just got another Pentagon contract.
Remember Armstrong Williams?
The columnist the Bush administration paid to promote the NCLB?
Ever hear of Operation Mockingbird?