January 12, 2006
Under Clinton, NY Times called surveillance "a necessity"By William Tate
The controversy following revelations that U.S. intelligence agencies have monitored suspected terrorist related communications since 9/11 reflects a severe case of selective amnesia by the New York Times and other media opponents of President Bush. They certainly didn't show the same outrage when a much more invasive and indiscriminate domestic surveillance program came to light during the Clinton administration in the 1990's. At that time, the Times called the surveillance 'a necessity.'
Those words were aired on February 27, 2000 to describe the National Security Agency and an electronic surveillance program called Echelon whose mission, according to Kroft,
Echelon was, or is (its existence has been under—reported in the American media), an electronic eavesdropping program conducted by the United States and a few select allies such as the United Kingdom.
Tellingly, the existence of the program was confirmed not by the New York Times or the Washington Post or by any other American media outlet — these were the Clinton years, after all, and the American media generally treats Democrat administrations far more gently than Republican administrations — but by an Australian government official in a statement made to an Australian television news show.
The Times actually defended the existence of Echelon when it reported on the program following the Australians' revelations.
And the Times article quoted an N.S.A. official in assuring readers
Of course, that was on May 27, 1999 and Bill Clinton, not George W. Bush, was president.
Even so, the article did admit that
Despite the Times' reluctance to emphasize those concerns, one of the sources used in that same article, Patrick Poole, a lecturer in government and economics at Bannock Burn College in Franklin, Tenn., had already concluded in a study cited by the Times story that the program had been abused in both ways.
The Times article also referenced a European Union report on Echelon. The report was conducted after E.U. members became concerned that their citizens' rights may have been violated. One of the revelations of that study was that the N.S.A. used partner countries' intelligence agencies to routinely circumvent legal restrictions against domestic spying.
Further, the E.U. report concluded that intelligence agencies did not feel particularly constrained by legal restrictions requiring search warrants.
The current controversy follows a Times report that, since 9/11, U.S.
Poole summarized in his study on the program.
According to an April, 2000 article in PC World magazine, experts who studied Echelon concluded that
'Project Echelon's equipment can process 1 million message inputs every 30 minutes.'
In the February, 2000 60 Minutes story, former spy Mike Frost made clear that Echelon monitored practically every conversation — no matter how seemingly innocent — during the Clinton years.
Even as the Times defended Echelon as 'a necessity' in 1999, evidence already existed that electronic surveillance had previously been misused by the Clinton Administration for political purposes. Intelligence officials told Insight Magazine in 1997 that a 1993 conference of Asian and Pacific world leaders hosted by Clinton in Seattle had been spied on by U.S. intelligence agencies.
So, during the Clinton Administration, evidence existed (all of the information used in this article was available at the time) that:
These revelations were met by the New York Times and others in the mainstream media by the sound of one hand clapping. Now, reports that the Bush Administration approved electronic eavesdropping, strictly limited to international communications, of a relative handful of suspected terrorists have created a media frenzy in the Times and elsewhere.
The Times has historically been referred to as 'the Grey Lady.' That grey is beginning to look just plain grimy, and many of us can no longer consider her a lady.
William Tate is a writer and researcher and former broadcast journalist. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.