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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Isikoff on AP Leak Story: National Security or Press Intimidation?

In the Brave New post-9/11 World “national security” has become a mantra uttered to justify and sanctify countless Executive Branch actions. Today, President Obama made official his willingness to use national security as justification for even the most draconian of measures—the unprecedented seizure of Associated Press records. Anyone who had hoped that yesterday’s announprecedented secret seizure of Associated Press recorduncement of Administration support for a federal “shield law” designed to protect press freedoms was the precursor for an Obama apology for the Justice Department’s actions was quickly disappointed by Obama’s announcement today. Here is how the Washington Post is reporting Obama’s response to questions about the scandal:

President Obama on Thursday strongly defended the Justice Department leaks investigation that secretly gathered private phone records of Associated Press journalists, suggesting that protecting U.S. personnel overseas outweighs press privileges in this case.

“Leaks related to national security can put people at risk. They can put men and women in uniform that I’ve sent into the battlefield at risk,” Obama said during a news conference with visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “And so I make no apologies, and I don’t think the American people would expect me, as commander in chief, not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed.”

What is really going on here? Was the Obama administration really going after the Associated Press’s records in order to identify the leaker or is the scope of their actions against the AP indicative of an effort to punish the news organization for its handling of the story? The story is still developing, but the brilliant investigative reporter Michael Isikoff has a story now up that is filling in the pieces:

Justice Department and Associated Press officials clashed Tuesday over leaked classified information that led the government to seize AP phone records, with Attorney General Eric Holder saying it “put the American people at risk” and the news organization’s chief executive insisting it delayed publishing its story until it was assured “national security concerns had passed.”… Holder’s comments and a letter from Deputy Attorney General James Cole defending the seizure of the AP records – without notifying the news organization until last week --  drew a stern response from AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt. He  blasted the action as "overbroad under the law," saying  that "more than 100 journalists work in the locations served by those telephones."
"Rather than talk to us in advance, they seized these phone records in secret, saying that notifying us would compromise their investigation," Pruitt said in a statement late Tuesday. “They offer no explanation of this, however.
"Instead they captured the telephone numbers between scores of AP journalists and the many people they talk to in the normal business of gathering news."
Pruitt also defended the AP's decision to publish the story that apparently sparked the leak investigation…
Pruitt on Tuesday denied the article posed a threat to national security.
"We held that story until the government assured us that the national security concerns had passed," he said. "Indeed, the White House was preparing to publicly announce that the bomb plot had been foiled.
"The White House had said there was no credible threat to the American people in May of 2012. The AP story suggested otherwise, and we felt that was important information and the public deserved to know it."
Pruitt's statement  came after he received a letter from Cole, the deputy attorney general, which said  "there was a basis to believe" the phone numbers subpoenaed "were associated with AP personnel involved in the reporting of classified information." He said the subpoenas were "limited to a reasonable period of time" and were only taken after all "alternative investigative steps had been taken …  including conducting over 550 interviews and reviewing tens of thousands of documents." 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Obama's Worst Scandal--the Seizure of Associated Press Records

“An astonishing assault on core values of our society”
Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert at the Federation of American Scientists, on the Obama Administrations seizure of AP records.

In what would seem to be the worst two weeks of his entire time in office, President Obama is under scrutiny with regards to three major issues: the IRS’s intentional focus on conservative groups, the Benghazi tragedy and the seizing of massive amounts of Associated Press (AP) records ostensibly to investigate a government leak concerning an al-Quaeda plot. It is this final scandal, what the President of the AP has called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into the affairs of news organization by the federal government, that I find most alarming. I say this not because I think the other two scandals are merely political witch-hunts by Republicans, but because the AP story reflects actions clearly and undeniably taken by people at the highest levels of the Executive Branch in continuation of a policy of aggressive pursuing leaks. In other words, the scandal of the AP story is not something that can be passed off on to the actions of lower level officials (the defense so far for the IRS scandal) or heat-of-the-moment responses to a security crisis (the Benghazi story), but rather is an outgrowth of a major Obama Administration effort that reaches to the highest levels of his Cabinet. This excerpt from a Washington Post editorial explains the story well:

In a sweeping and unusual move, the Justice Department secretly obtained two months’ worth of telephone records of journalists working for the Associated Press as part of a year-long investigation into the disclosure of classified information about a failed al-Qaeda plot last year. The records listed outgoing calls from more than 20 work and personal phone lines in April and May 2012, the news agency said. It said the number of journalists who used those lines during that period is unknown but that more than 100 journalists work in the targeted offices.
Federal authorities obtained cellular, office and home telephone records of individual reporters and an editor, as well as records from AP general office numbers in Washington, New York and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters covering Congress, AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary B. Pruitt said Monday. He called the Justice Department’s actions a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into newsgathering activities.
The aggressive investigation into the possible disclosure of classified information to the AP is part of a pattern in which the Obama administration has pursued current and former government officials suspected of releasing secret material. Six officials have been prosecuted, more than under all previous administrations combined….In the AP case, the news organization and its reporters and editors are not the likely targets of the investigation. Rather, the inquiry is probably aimed at current or former government officials who divulged classified information.
But experts said the scope of the records secretly seized from the AP and its reporters goes beyond the known scale of previous leak probes.
“This investigation is broader and less focused on an individual source or reporter than any of the others we’ve seen,” said Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert at the Federation of American Scientists. “They have swept up an entire collection of press communications. It’s an astonishing assault on core values of our society.”

Monday, May 13, 2013

Feminists for Life on Gosnell's Murder Conviction

The landmark case against Doctor Kermit Gosnell has ended in a powerful verdict by the jury finding Gosnell guilty of murder. The reverberations of this case will be felt for years to come, both in terms of the legal significance and the media coverage. I received these comments in an email from Serrin Foster, the President of Feminists for Life:

Feminists for Life first alerted you to the horrors at the Gosnell West Philadelphia clinic in 2009 after two women and untold numbers of babies died. 

Today a jury of his peers found Kermit Gosnell guilty on one count of involuntary manslaughter in the overdose death of a woman undergoing an abortion at his clinic, three counts of first-degree murder of premature infants forced into this world, as well as several counts of performing abortions beyond the 24-week gestation limit under Pennsylvania law. There were also other charges and convictions based on the squalid conditions of his West Philadelphia clinic.

Thanks to pro-lifers and a few courageous reporters and columnists, these atrocities have been brought to the attention of many more people who now have an inkling of the desperation faced by women who seek abortions and the cruel truth behind abortion and infanticide.

New technologies in fetal killing do nothing to serve women or save their children.

May the surviving victims find healing, knowing that they are welcome in Feminists for Life and at post-abortion groups such as Rachel's Vineyard and Project Rachel. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Spiritual Ecumenism: Fiber or Fluff?

A major focus of my life over the last couple months has been the effort to build relationships among Christians in the Washington, DC area in advance of this Saturday’s Unity Factor Forum with John Armstrong (it is still not too late to register!!). One of the dividends of that work has been getting to know Fr. Tom Ryan and the work of the Paulist Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. Fr. Tom is the head of the American office, located on the campus of St. Paul’s College in Washington, DC. The Unity Factor Forum will be held at this site and Fr. Tom will be our host that day.  

In preparation for the Forum, and as an outgrowth of my growing friendship with Fr. Tom, I have been reading articles by him. He is a gifted writer whose insights grow out of decades of work as a Paulist priest focused in the area of Christian unity. Here is a taste of his work from an article entitled “Spiritual Ecumenism: Fiber of Fluff”:

Prayer is and will always hold the first place in unity efforts because it is prayer that most changes our hearts, and it is our hearts that most need to be changed.
The conversion implied begins with ourselves, our ways of stereotyping others (“Orthodox always…”; “Anglicans do …”; “Evangelicals say…;”), our smug sense of superiority, our lack of interest in the changing understandings taking place between our church and another through the dialogues….
Spiritual ecumenism is also an exchange of spiritual gifts—contemplative and charismatic ways of praying, lectio divina, devotional practices, the theology of icons, the tradition of spiritual direction, effective approaches to youth and young adults, the practice of annual retreats and monthly desert days, methods of singing, preaching, and sharing the faith….
Spiritual ecumenism must seek out and serve life. It must be concerned with everyday human experiences as well as with the great questions of justice and peace and the preservation of creation. Through the prayer and the sharing, our hearts are turned more fully toward Christ, and the closer we come to him, the more we discover ourselves in unity. And in the exchange of gifts, what is lacking in each of our traditions finds its needed complement. The ecumenical endeavor thus becomes a pilgrimage to the fullness of catholicity which Jesus Christ intends for his Church.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Francis: "How Do We Overcome the Evil One?"

Pope Francis, whose regular emphasis on the devil is striking, has given another homily in which spiritual warfare plays a prominent part. But unlike so much other Christian comment on this topic, Francis emphasizes that spiritual victory comes through humility and meekness. Here is a portion of his homily as reported at Vatican Radio.

‘Father, what is the weapon to defend against these seductions, from these blandishments, these enticements that the prince of this world offers?’. The weapon is the same weapon of Jesus, the Word of God…and then humility and meekness. We think of Jesus, when they give that slap: what humility! What meekness! He could have insulted him, no? One question, meek and humble. We think of Jesus in His Passion. His Prophet says: ‘As a sheep going to the slaughter.’ He does not cry out, not at all: humility. Humility and meekness. These are the weapons that the prince and spirit of this world does not tolerate, for his proposals are proposals for worldly power, proposals of vanity, proposals for ill-gotten riches.”