Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Returns and correctives

Sorry for dropping out for the past week. I was traveling and thought I'd be better able to get online than it turned out I actually was. I've got a lot of material in the pipeline, so expect me to kind of make up for it in the next week or two.

While I was out, I found out that not only had I filed one post last week predicated on what turned out to be false information -- not exactly a common occurrence here -- but evidently two such posts. Even though in both cases I was working on ostensibly reliable information from credible mainstream sources, I'd like to give my readers a heartfelt apology. I certainly expect better of myself.

The first case is particularly aggravating: it turns out that the student who claimed he'd been visited by Homeland Security investigators after checking out Mao's Little Red Book was a complete hoax. The reason it's aggravating is that the larger point I made in the post -- that not only is it easy for rogue surveillance lacking any kind of oversight to morph into an actual assault on the civil liberties of ordinary citizens -- remains valid, as other evidence continues to demonstrate. Digby has a lot more on this. As ReddHedd at firedoglake points out, the evidence keeps coming in from sources like James Bamford at the New York Times and William Arkin's blog in the Washington Post, as well as my hometown paper, the P-I, "all detailing ways in which the NSA is said to have been deployed far beyond what its mission has traditionally been, and all without any third party oversight because the Bush Administration deliberately chose to move forward without it."

This is an important thing for the public to understand, and the evidence for it doesn't need to be tainted by hoaxes. The "Little Red Book" fit in so neatly with everything else we're discovering about this expansion of executive power that I didn't treat it with the skepticism it probably deserved.

Then there's the matter of the Washington Times' purported link to bin Laden's decision in 1998 to stop using his cell phone, cited by President Bush and the 9/11 commission. The Washington Post and Jack Shafer at Slate pretty thoroughly debunk this story, though as Shafer notes, the facts they raise don't necessarily disprove whether such a connection existed: it remains entirely possible that bin Laden's decision to drop the use of the phone was sparked by the publication of the information in the Washington Times. On the other hand, the internal NSC assumption that this was the case, according to Daniel Benjamin, may not have been accurate either. It's clear, in any event, that the release of the information was not the product of a leak.

My mistake was reasonable enough, having originated from an otherwise largely credible work by a couple of well-regarded counterterrorism experts. And I obviously wasn't alone in doing so: even the Washington Post itself had referred to the 1998 Times story as the source of what was termed "a major intelligence setback" -- though, as Shafer explains, the information had already been made public a couple of years before that.

Mea culpa. Now, on to the good stuff. Hopefully hoax- and urban-myth-free.

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