Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Chart of the Day

From Ezra Klein's blog


Obama unfairly criticized on leak investigations

The Chronicle's editorial page accuses the Obama administration of attacking the First Amendment when it tried to find out about recent leaks of classified information:

An unseasonable chill has settled over the American public's right to know and the ability of the press to tell citizens what they're government is up to...The feds seemed to have conflated journalism with espionage, an unacceptable position in a nation founded on the principle of a free press...President Obama came into office pledging to run "the most transparent administration in history." Its overzealous pursuit and prosecution of leaks, showing little regard for the First Amendment, has proved otherwise.

A Fox News reporter and an Associated Press reporter received classified information from government employees. There's little evidence that the government was interested in prosecuting the journalists; it just wanted to find out who the leakers were. Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, not exactly a right-winger, has a sensible
discussion of the leak to the A.P. reporter, and he links a LA Times story that goes deeper into the issue:

His access led to the U.S. drone strike that killed a senior Al Qaeda leader, Fahd Mohammed Ahmed Quso, on May 6, 2012. U.S. officials say Quso helped direct the terrorist attack that killed 17 sailors aboard the U.S. guided-missile destroyer Cole in a Yemeni harbor in October 2000. The informant also convinced members of the Yemeni group that he wanted to blow up a U.S. passenger jet on the first anniversary of the U.S. attack that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. They outfitted him with the latest version of an underwear bomb designed to pass metal detectors and other airport safeguards, officials say. The informant left Yemen and delivered the device to his handlers, and it ultimately went to the FBI's laboratory in Quantico, Va. Intelligence officials hoped to send him back to Yemen to help track more bomb makers and planners, but the leak made that impossible, and sent Al Qaeda scrambling to cover its tracks, officials said.

In an op-ed in the NY Times, three former Justice Department officials explain why that leak was so damaging:

The leak---which resulted in a May 2012 article by The A.P. about the disruption of a Yemen-based terrorist plot to bomb an airliner---significantly damaged our national security. The United States and its allies were trying to locate a master bomb builder affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group that was extremely difficult to penetrate. After considerable effort and danger, an agent was inserted inside the group. Although that agent succeeded in foiling one serious bombing plot against the United States, he was rendered ineffective once his existence was disclosed. The leak of such sensitive source information not only denies us an invaluable insight into our adversaries’ plans and operations. It is also devastating to our overall ability to thwart terrorist threats, because it discourages our allies from working and sharing intelligence with us and deters would-be sources from providing intelligence about our adversaries. Unless we can demonstrate the willingness and ability to stop this kind of leak, those critical intelligence resources may be lost to us.

The Justice Department was right to try to find out who leaked that damaging information to the A.P. reporter. The point was not to harass and/or prosecute the reporter but to find out who the leaker was. The department spent months trying to learn that before they went after the phone records:

Did prosecutors immediately seek the reporters’ toll records? No. Did they subpoena the reporters to testify or compel them to turn over their notes? No. Rather, according to the Justice Department’s
May 14 letter to The A.P., they first interviewed 550 people, presumably those who knew or might have known about the agent, and scoured the documentary record. But after eight months of intensive effort, it appears that they still could not identify the leaker.

There was nothing improper here. The Justice Department was obligated to do what it did:

They were right to pursue the investigation with “alternative investigative steps” for eight months first. And ultimately, they were right to take it to the next stage when they still needed more to make a case against the leaker. If the Justice Department had not done so, it would have defaulted on its obligation to protect the American people.

Imagine the Republican outrage if the Justice Department hadn't conducted a vigorous investigation of the leaks! It would have been Benghazi times ten. Nor is there any evidence that President Obama played a role in any of this, since his Justice Department seems to be genuinely independent, for good or for ill.

Journalists like to think this was all about them and their rights, but that's simply not true. The Obama administration, as the officials point out, is charged with protecting the American people and respecting the First Amendment rights of reporters.

A federal shield law would ensure that reporters couldn't be prosecuted---or even threatened with prosecution---for receiving classified information. But there's something creepy about reporters who publish classified information that damages our national security interests and puts Americans in danger.

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How much did this video cost city taxpayers?

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority made this video with the Prop. K sales tax money that's supposedly for maintaining and improving the city's transportation system. Hard to see how this witless video does that. Streetsblog apparently thought it was pretty cute, since they posted it as part of a fund-raising pitch without questioning what it cost city taxpayers.

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A report on the high-speed rail hearing

The Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail sends this report on Friday's hearing:

On Friday, May 31st, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny heard arguments in the case of
Tos v. California High-Speed Rail Authority. The lawsuit challenges the current high-speed rail project. The basis of the lawsuit is that the project proposed for construction is inconsistent with the requirements of Proposition 1A. When the voters approved Proposition 1A and provided $9 billion for high-speed rail, they expected that the High-Speed Rail Authority would do what the law said, both procedurally and substantively. But the Authority is not doing what Proposition 1A said. That is the basis for the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs in Tos v. California High-Speed Rail Authority are from the Central Valley, ground zero for the current project. The attorneys arguing on behalf of the plaintiffs, and on behalf of all California taxpayers, come from the Bay Area. Lead attorney is Mike Brady, a member of the CC-HSR Board of Directors. Stuart Flashman, the attorney who has successfully represented Atherton, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and CC-HSR in litigation challenging the environmental review process carried out here in the Bay Area argued the "writ" portions of the case, which were heard last Friday.

Representatives and supporters of CC-HSR were in attendance in the courtroom in Sacramento.

Stuart Flashman began the argument. He cited cases that establish this rule: When a bond act is passed by the voters, the provisions of the bond act are "like a contract," and the government is legally bound to use the money the way it said it would. Judge Kenny seemed to get the point. Since the Authority has not followed important provisions of Proposition 1A, the court can intervene to protect the voters' rights.

After the presentation by Stuart Flashman, a Deputy Attorney General argued the case for the Authority. She said that the procedures and provisions that the Authority has not followed were not really placed in the bond act for the benefit of the voters; they were placed there only to inform the Legislature, and since the Legislature has now voted to spend bond act money on the current project, that is all that counts. The court really doesn't have any role to play. Judge Kenny had some tough questions about this argument!

After arguments from both sides, the case has now been submitted to the Judge, who is expected to rule in the next several weeks. The portions of the case argued on May 31st represent only "Part I" of the lawsuit. More issues may be argued later.

Randal O'Toole on the hearing.