Monday, July 13, 2009

The Linguistically and Legally Challenged at NPR

(click picture for partial source)

There are times when I read my transcription of a report on NPR and I ask myself, "Did they really say that?" This morning was one of those cases. Mary Louise Kelly was "reporting" on the CIA program that Panetta cancelled - and which was so secret that even the few members of Congress required by federal law (see short PDF file here) to be informed of such things - were told nothing.

Kelly describes the secrecy of the program and - referring to a New York Times report - notes that "the reason the CIA didn't brief this to Congress sooner was because Dick Cheney told them not to." Inskeep then asks Kelly a reasonable question: "Was anybody at the CIA actually legally required to tell Congress about this?" And this is where things get really strange. Kelly replies,
"It's actually not 100% clear. The law that governs this is called the National Security Act of 1947 and it's been amended many times since then, but the relevant portion is this: 'Congress must be notified about all significant intelligence activities; also' - and this is important - 'all significant, anticipated intelligence activities.' So the question becomes What is significant?, Who gets to decide?, and clearly in the case of this particular program, people came out with very different views about whether it met the standard."
Ah yes, like that wily word torture, significant is such a relative term - open to so many shades of interpretation. Hmmm....just what could significant mean? Funny thing is that Kelly opened the story noting that "what we do know is this: it was a covert program, clearly began back in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. It continued in an on-again-off-again fashion up until last year." She also noted that "there is a lot of speculation that it had to do with a presidential authorization after 9/11 to capture or kill al-Qaeda leaders, so we're talking about using lethal force..." Ah yes, but whether a SEVEN YEAR covert program (and one that likely meant killing people) is significant is just so hard to really figure out.

Frankly the focus on "significant" is a red herring since the law amending the Security Act (P.L. 102-88 - go to page 13 of the PDF file here) clearly states "The President shall ensure that the intelligence committees are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, [kind of looks "100% clear" to me], including any significant anticipated intelligence activities as required by this title."

Kelly's not done yet. If nothing else she's determined. Not only is she playing the torture the English language game, but she closes up by advocating for criminal behavior by the executive branch. Even if the federal law was broken, Kelly notes that
"one former intelligence official I spoke to said, 'Look, the CIA didn't tell Congress about this because they didn't want it to leak' so they kept it to themselves and it didn't leak for EIGHT years. Last month it was briefed to Congress and now hear we are talking about it. So they've made a pretty compelling case for why the CIA might not want to tell Congress."
If only I were making this stuff up. Yep, that is one compelling case for breaking federal laws meant to maintain checks and balances. Apparently, Kelly didn't actually read the law because it also states on page 13 of the PDF copy of P.L 102-88 that
"Nothing in this Act shall be construed as authority to withhold information from the intelligence committees on the grounds that providing the information to the intelligence committees would constitute the unauthorized disclosure of classified information...."
So much for that compelling case. Given her masterful legal interpretations, I'd say Mary Louise Kelly missed her opportunity to work for the Bush-Cheney OLC....hey there's always the CIA, unless she's already....one can only wonder.

11 comments:

pat1755 said...

So they've made a pretty compelling case for why the CIA might not want to tell Congress.

Yeah, I heard that and could not believe my ears.

Oh, and btw, my public radio station (KERA in Dallas) has confirmed to me that they will not allow me to restrict my member contribution to non-NPR operations, so they are not getting any more $ from me. Too bad, they do some excellent local programming.

gopol said...

pat1755, Have you looked into LPFM?

Anonymous said...

NPR and Mary Louise Kelly are a disgrace. Don't they realize that they are reporting to - their audience is - the same people that Congress is supposed to represent? As In...WE THE PEOPLE. As in...OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE, AND FOR THE PEOPLE.

Why do they try to fool the people? Don't they care about their audience? Or Is it to please those who fund NPR? NPR should be investigated. Who pays for this "news
programming."

Compare Mary Louise Kelly's story with Rachel Maddow's expository reporting of the same subject.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, but whether a SEVEN YEAR covert program (and one that likely meant killing people) is significant is just so hard to really figure out.

and a program meant to kill al-Qaeda leaders (like bin Laden), at that.

Nah, that can't be significant, can it?


Cheney obviously thought it was significant enough to hide from Congress, at any rate.

Mary Louise Kelly should get together with Bill Clinton some time. They would have a lot to talk about: the meaning of the word "is", for instance.

Anonymous said...

The focus on "significant" in this case is a red herring for more than just the reason MTW gives.

TITLE V—ACCOUNTABILITY FOR INTELLIGENCE
ACTIVITIES 1
GENERAL CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT PROVISIONS
SEC. 501. ΓΈ50 U.S.C. 413¿ (a)(1) The President shall ensure that the congressional intelligence committees are kept fully and
currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity as
required by this title."

This reference (and all other references to "significant" in the act) are in relation to 'anticipated intelligence activity", not activity that is already occurring or HAS occurred.

The Act also says this

"The President shall ensure that any illegal intelligence activity
is reported promptly to the congressional intelligence committees, as well as any corrective action that has been taken or is planned in connection with such illegal activity."

So, if Bush was aware of Cheney's program, he violated the law by not informing Congress.

I suspect the latter clause is precisely why we are now hearing about this. Obama could also be held accountable if he did not inform Congress when he heard about this from Panetta.

andywells2009 said...

hey - I made that same point in a comment left on this site yesterday!

Not nearly as well, nor as completely... but great minds think alike!

andywells2009 said...

I see by her bio, that Mary Louise is an old school twit...

who was hired on by NPR as a SENIOR editor????

Geez, Louise... she's what Atrios called a Villager!

dguzman said...

Great analysis of the bullsh*t.

Anonymous said...

btw, my public radio station (KERA in Dallas) has confirmed to me that they will not allow me to restrict my member contribution to non-NPR operations,"

I wonder why that is. Perhaps they sign a contract with NPR to that effect.

It is interesting that the entire NPR funding "scheme" (whereby member stations receive money from CPB and then use a large part of that to purchase NPR programming) seems to have been set up specifically to make NPR immune from attempts on the part of Congress to use the power of the purse to shut it down.

But it also has an achilles heal: if the member stations decide to cut back on NPR programming, NPR suffers.

gopol said...

Given NPR practice of repeating 2-3 minute "stories" ad nauseum, some cutting back might be in order. Hell, I'd rather hear the local mayor reading from the telephone directory.

Anonymous said...

Unlike the legal geniuses like kelly at NPR, Senator Feingold (an actual lawyer) believes the CIA violated the law when it did not notify Congress

July 17, 2009

The Honorable Dennis C. Blair
Director of National Intelligence
Washington, D.C. 20511

Dear Director Blair,

According to a story on Thursday in the Washington Post, you stated that the failure to notify the congressional intelligence committees about a program recently cancelled by CIA Director Leon Panetta did not violate the law. I disagree and believe that the program in question fit squarely within the notification requirements of the National Security Act. I therefore request that you provide me with your analysis, and any analysis by the DNI General Counsel, supporting your conclusion.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,
Russell D. Feingold