US media yet again conceals newsworthy government secrets

The Washington PostBy Glenn Greenwald

The US media, over the last decade (at least), has repeatedly acted to conceal newsworthy information it obtains about the actions of the US government. In each instance, the self-proclaimed adversarial press corps conceals these facts at the behest of the US government, based on patently absurd claims that reporting them will harm US national security. In each instance, what this media concealment actually accomplishes is enabling the dissemination of significant government falsehoods without challenge, and permitting the continuation of government deceit and even illegality.

One of the most notorious examples was in mid-2004 when the New York Times discovered – thanks to a courageous DOJ whistleblower – that the Bush administration was eavesdropping on the electronic communications of Americans without the warrants required by the criminal law. But after George Bush summoned to the Oval Office the paper’s publisher (Arthur Sulzberger) and executive editor (Bill Keller) and directed them to conceal what they had learned, the NYT complied by sitting on the story for a-year-and-a-half: until late December, 2005, long after Bush had been safely re-elected. The “national security” excuse for this concealment was patently ludicrous from the start: everyone knew the US government was trying to eavesdrop on al-Qaida communications and this story merely revealed that they were doing so illegally (without warrants) rather than legally (with warrants). By concealing the story for so long, the New York Times helped the Bush administration illegally spy on Americans.

The Washington Post’s Dana Priest, in a superb act of journalism, reported in 2005 that the CIA was maintaining a network of secret “black sites” where detainees were interrogated and abused beyond the monitoring scrutiny of human rights groups and even Congress. But the Post purposely concealed the identity of the countries serving as the locale of those secret prisons in order to enable the plainly illegal program to continue without bothersome disruptions: “the Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior US officials.”

In 2011, the New York Times along with numerous other US media outlets learned that the American arrested in Pakistan for having shot and killed two Pakistanis, Raymond Davis, was not – as President Obama falsely claimed – “our diplomat”, but was a CIA agent and former Blackwater contractor. Not only did the NYT conceal this fact, but it repeatedly and uncritically printed claims from Obama and other officials about Davis’ status which it knew to be false. It was only once the Guardian published the facts about Davis – that he was a CIA agent – did the Times tell the truth to its readers, admitting that the disclosure “pulled back the curtain on a web of covert American operations inside Pakistan, part of a secret war run by the CIA“.

The NYT, as usual, justified its concealment of this obviously newsworthy information as coming “at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his specific job would put his life at risk”. But as the Guardian’s Deputy Editor Ian Katz noted, “Davis [was] already widely assumed in Pakistan to have links to US intelligence” and “disclosing his CIA role would [therefore not] expose him to increased risk”.

And now, yet again, the US media has been caught working together to conceal obviously newsworthy government secrets. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that two years ago, the Obama administration established a base in Saudi Arabia from which it deploys drones to kill numerous people in Yemen. including US citizen Anwar Awlaki and, two weeks, later his 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman. The US base was built after the US launched a December, 2009 cruise missile/cluster-bomb attack that slaughtered dozens of Yemeni women and children.

But the Post admitted that it – along with multiple other US media outlets – had long known about the Saudi Arabia drone base but had acted in unison to conceal it from the US public:

“The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the specific location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network’s most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.

“The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.”

The “other news organization” which the Post references is the New York Times. The NYT – in a very good article yesterday on the role played by CIA nominee John Brennan in US drones strikes in Yemen – reported that Brennan “work[ed] closely with neighboring Saudi Arabia to gain approval for a secret CIA drone base there that is used for American strikes”. As the paper’s Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, explained, the NYT was one of the papers which “had withheld the location of that base at the request of the CIA”, but had decided now to report it. That was why the Post did so.

The existence of this drone base in Saudi Arabia is significantly newsworthy in multiple ways. The US drone program is drenched with extreme secrecy. The assassination of Awlaki is one of the most radical acts the US government has undertaken in the last decade at least. The intense cooperation between the US and the incomparably despotic Saudi regime is of vital significance. As Sullivan, the NYT’s Public Editor, put it in defending the NYT’s disclosure (and implicitly questioning the prior media conspiracy of silence):

“Given the government’s undue secrecy about the drone program, which it has never officially acknowledged the existence of, and that program’s great significance to America’s foreign policy, its national security, and its influence on the tumultuous Middle East, The Times ought to be reporting as much and as aggressively as possible on it.”

As usual, the excuses for concealing this information are frivolous. Indeed, as the Guardian’s Roy Greenslade noted, “the location of several drone bases was published as long ago as September last year on at least one news website, as this item on the North America Inter Press Service illustrates.” Gawker’s Adrian Chen documents numerous other instances where the base had been publicly disclosed and writes:

“In the case of the Saudi drone base, the Times and the Post weren’t protecting a state secret: They were helping the CIA bury an inconvenient story. . . . The fact that the drone base was already reported renders the rationale behind the months-long blackout a farce.”

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