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Friday, December 17, 2010

White House asserts right
to curb press readership

A Fox News Reporter, in her scanty coverage of yesterday's Wikileaks hearing in Washington, styled Julian Assange as a person who was not a "legitimate" member of the press.

And that's what the system is up to: apply different laws to "illegitimate" members of the press. But of course as soon as lawmakers and the Justice Dept. do that, government officials are in effect licensing journalists, something that should never happen in a self-respecting democracy.

The reason the heat is on Julian Assange is because of his news medium's published content. Doesn't that automatically qualify him as a member of the press?

Now why is the White House saying it is an offense for federal employees and contractors, who lack requisite security clearances, to view classified documents published in the media?

“Classified information, whether or not already posted on public websites or disclosed to the media, remains classified, and must be treated as such by federal employees and contractors, until it is declassified by an appropriate U.S. Government authority,” said a notice sent on Dec. 3 by the Office of Management and Budget, which is part of the White House, to agency and department heads.

One of the deliberate confusions here, mentioned by a government spokesman, concerns the viewing of entire documents, rather than excerpts, with the feds implying that "legitimate" media don't publish entire classified documents. However, two points: the Constitution makes no such distinction; the American press from time to time has published entire classified documents, sometimes inside the paper, sometimes in books. Certainly the Times has published entire, though redacted, cables from the Wikileaks trove.

But the White House assertion that it is an offense for a government worker or contractor to read a document appearing in the press is a bizarre new twist in exercise of executive power. If the government can choose who is allowed to read what, then it can continue a process of cutting off selected people from public domain materials, based on political decisions.

The government's theory is that if it can't tell the press what it can publish, it can still tell the press's readers what they can read.

The only reason the White House did not attempt to enforce this theory against the American people as a whole is because they aren't yet (God help us) ready to accept that idea. After all, it's ridiculous to assert that Americans who work for the government do not have a First Amendment right to read what everyone else can read.

The government's excessive maneuvering to try to blacklist and destroy members of the press who don't fit into the current system is one of the reasons for growing public distrust of central government. First they want to compel me to buy health insurance against my will; now they're telling me I can only read what they approve, even if it's already in the press.

The government's heavy hand showed up when Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs received an e-mail advising them not to discuss or post Wikileaks links online, especially on popular social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The e-mail was forwarded to students by the Office of Career Services, who received the advisory from a State Department official who is an alumnus of the school.

"Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government," the e-mail said.

One concern was to warn students about records of their comments kept on Facebook. In other words, student right of free speech should be curtailed because federal officials would know about a controversial public issue in which they had been interested. One might also wonder whether the caution reflected the possibility that the FBI or NSA is, using perhaps National Security Letters, tracking those who visited Wikileaks, the Guardian, the N.Y. Times and other sites.

Reports from Threat Level, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Guardian on yesterday's hearing.

Wikileaks war logs redacted. But the question is, by whom?

It's apparent that if one doesn't have Javascript, there are some disruptions. However, would that technicality result in nearly all names being crossed out with percentage signs from a number of Wikileaks war documents?

I realize Wikileaks took a lot of grief for publishing identifying information that might, in some cases, have been of use to al Qaeda or others. And I suppose that Assange, under ferocious political pressure, might have OKd redacting the material after it had already been posted.

But my concern is that some busybody working for an internet server may have found a "techicality" to cover doing the Pentagon's bidding. Please write me with any explanations you have. It's vaguely possible the control freaks will let your email through.

Here is an example:


2004-01-01 06:10:00
Expand acronyms: Take care; definitions may be wrong.
<h2>Javascript required for full view</h2> <h3>Limited script-free view:</h3> AT %%% HRS, -%%% REPORTS IED DISCOVERED AT (%%% METERS FROM FOB %%%. MERE SOUTH GATE)(11KM SOUTH EAST OF FALLUJAH) , %%%-GAL %%% WITH A HAND GRENADE UNDERNEATH. ROUTE %%% FOB %%%. MERE IS BLOCKED. -%%% IS SECURING THE SITE, AND EOD HAS BEEN NOTIFIED.


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