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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

 
That time when Dana Priest explained what investigative national security journalism is

by digby

I know that Glenn Greenwald is a real jerk and all, but I wonder what people think about Dana Priest these days?  This interview is from 2006, just 8 years ago in the wake of her blockbuster investigative report that revealed the United States was running black site torture prisons all over the world:
If the president of the United States, who calls himself the "decider," decides that it is not in the interest of the national security of the United States to have detention centers revealed, ... who are you to decide otherwise? 
The Constitution does not make the president of the United States the decider when it comes to the flow of information. That's so fundamental to who we are as a country, that we have a press that is independent of the government. It's not a perfect system in that we could make mistakes, but the alternative is that the government does decide what gets in print, and that would be revolutionary. That would make it impossible to do accountability stories. ... 
Your story and a couple of others, like the [New York Times'] NSA [National Security Agency] wiretapping story, set off a determination by the government to really crack down. ... 

Well, that's a reflection of what they think the public should know. And this government tries very hard to control the flow of information, as we saw in the buildup in the war in Iraq. 
But every administration has wanted to control the flow of information. 

Right, but using the FBI to do so is a different level. Using the Espionage Act potentially is a different -- it's the quantum leap. I would say that it's a misunderstanding of the role that the media plays in a democracy and in our country as a watchdog organization. ... 
You have branches of government that are supposed to be checks and balances on one another. Theoretically you're supposed to have that on intelligence with the intelligence committees. But the intelligence committees for years have been dysfunctional; I would say that they still are today. ... 
The committees are handicapped to begin with, because unless you're on the committee or have been a member of the intelligence community, you come to those committees with barely any knowledge of this whole secret world, which makes you less effective as a watchdog. 
And as you said, the committees say that they get briefings, although often it's a select group. But ... they don't get briefings in writing very often anymore, and they can't take notes. 
Right. By law, the executive determines whether they hold a special briefing, and then they only brief the chairman and the vice chairman without their staffs. It's now called the "Gang of Four." When they do a covert operation, they're supposed to brief a "Gang of Eight," which includes those four plus the four [House and Senate] leaders. But it devolved into briefing a Gang of Four on most sensitive things -- interrogations, detentions, probably renditions also. And my understanding is they didn't really give them much information. 
I don't think they asked for much, either, because in post-9/11, I don't think they really wanted to know. ... It took the media a while to really want to ask these questions, too. The first year, we were mainly concerned -- and I think rightfully so, given that you can only do so much -- with who is Al Qaeda, and how did this happen? So it was over time, when we had the time and the wherewithal to start saying, "What are we doing about this?" ...


I once naively assumed all members of the Fourth Estate saw their role that way. I was wrong.

Dana Priest went on to collaborate on a major Frontline investigation about the NSA called "Top Secret America" which, if you have not seen it, you should check it out online here. I'm pretty sure most of what's revealed are things the government didn't want you to see, so if you're against that please don't click though and allow yourself to be sullied by that information.

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