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Free Riders of Conscience


It's nice that Wretchard can often put things so well that there isn't much one can add, but it does make things a bit tough on the rest of us:

But what's required to gather intelligence sits uneasily with individuals and institutions who fear these methods are brutal, dangerous and warlike, which of course they all are. And so they undermine them at every turn to ease their conscience.

It's not totally accurate to call them "free riders" because they're as likely to pay the long term price as the rest of us, but they're free riding in the sense that those of us who feel compelled for the sake of consistency to acknowledge the risk and support some of these morally uncomfortable practices end up holding a load that they're too pure to touch. Well, somebody's gotta not do it, apparently:

There would be no problem with the NYT's leaks, or acceding to demands that every enemy combatant be provided with the full panoply of procedural protections, requiring that captured terrorists only be asked their name, rank and serial number -- they have any of those -- and insisting that gentlemen don't read other people's mail for so long as one was willing to pay the price. The problem is that many of the very same persons who want to restrict society's ability to make war also want casualty free wars, no collateral damage to enemy targets and a guarantee of safety not only to the population of the US and Allied Countries, but even to civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is not principled behavior. It is infantile behavior.

One would think this was obvious unless there were some way to convince yourself that we're not actually at war and it's all just another Bush fiction. Or if you don't really believe that, then at least your acknowledgment can wait until there are fewer people willing to toss their load on your back should you think about joining the adults. It's a time calculation with a discount rate for an ultimate risk that no one really knows. The one thing that's certain is that the fewer people playing this free riding game, the shorter the term for everyone.

The real betrayal lies in the claim that that's not as certain as we know it to be.

Update: Pretty embarassing revelation about the NYT from Sweetness & Light by way of LGF.

Updtade 2 (because the comment section won't accept embedded links to blogs):

Wretchard has more material about the NYT's rather inconsistent use of editorial judgment here. It pretty much lays to rest most of the excuses and apologetics of the alchemist and others. An excerpt from Secretary Snow's letter to Bill Keller:

You have defended your decision to compromise this program by asserting that "terror financiers know" our methods for tracking their funds and have already moved to other methods to send money. The fact that your editors believe themselves to be qualified to assess how terrorists are moving money betrays a breathtaking arrogance and a deep misunderstanding of this program and how it works. While terrorists are relying more heavily than before on cumbersome methods to move money, such as cash couriers, we have continued to see them using the formal financial system, which has made this particular program incredibly valuable.

Lastly, justifying this disclosure by citing the "public interest" in knowing information about this program means the paper has given itself free license to expose any covert activity that it happens to learn of - even those that are legally grounded, responsibly administered, independently overseen, and highly effective. Indeed, you have done so here.

What you've seemed to overlook is that it is also a matter of public interest that we use all means available - lawfully and responsibly - to help protect the American people from the deadly threats of terrorists. I am deeply disappointed in the New York Times.

Thus, there isn't the slightest credibility either to the objection that the "terrorists already knew" or to the bogus concept that there was anything untoward in how the program was run. And all of that was spelled out to the Times editorial staff, who simply chose to ignore it. They did, however, decide not to "insult" the Islamists by publishing the cartoons.

Now, one might consider the main reason why they were so sensitive about giving offense to the Islamists is that the Islamists tend to hurt people who insult them. The Times staff might very well feel the same accommodative sensitivity toward motorcycle gangs.


Indeed, Wretchard does put that well into words. I'll have to borrow those phrases some myself.


Hang out at some of the lefty sites for as long as you can stand it.

There are quite a few who do not believe there is a war on. That it is all just a Bush scare tactic to amass power.

The NYT is not alone.

For years one of my favourite interview questions to potential employees has been "How do you get along with your father?" because experience has taught me that many people play out their weird father relationships with any authority figure ... like an employer. Or a cop, or a soldier, or a Ree-Publican

We're stuck with something like that on the national scale these days, I suspect.

That's why when you ask a Lefty -- who for over a year has said that we should be using criminal investigation techniques, not the military, in this "non-war" -- why he's now so ardently opposed to using such techniques, you get something like: "Well these are really freedom fighters, not real criminals like Enron and Haliburton."

At the root of much of the America-hating left I'd be willing to bet is some riff on that father theme. The US should not be successful or powerful, because success and power are bad ... unless, of course, they're MINE.

What I want to know is: how do rational people address and control what amounts to a widespread and deeply embedded psychosis that happens to have enough political traction to pose a genuine threat of lasting harm to our nation?

The sad irony of it all would be that the NYT will cease publishing CT secrets shortly after AQ detonates a nuke [mounted on a SRBM launched from a freighter...] over New York.

Too bad the cost of reining in the NYT would be 1,000,000+ dead.

Their blind self-righteousness is truly frightening.

CPT. Charles,

There are other ways to make the NY TIMES pay without a nuke detonating and destroying it.

See the link to the next Winds article above

Orwell (who else?) said it bast, in his essay on Kipling (

"All left-wing parties in the highly industrialized countries are at bottom a sham, because they make it their business to fight against something which they do not really wish to destroy."

He was specifically talking about imperialsim, but the same priciple holds. They want the government to "connect the dots" as a general rule, but are morally averse to any specific attempt to do so.

Trent, I glanced over your proposal; at the very least I'll give you an A+ for creativity, but a D- for workable.

[All thoughts on that subject will come later...]

An expo-facto suit against the NYT does not undo or mitigate the carnage of a large-scale jihadi attack. As you might guess, I'm a 'direct-action' sorta guy. Yes, I'm aware of the political dynamic in play but chief reason why we find ourselves in this situation is because the NYT does not respect the laws concerning the defense of the Republic, nor fear them.

Make no mistake, I am no fascist; I believe in the Constitution.

However, rights without directly-linked responsibilites are little better than a license for chaos.

For all you 'over-sized' children out there: you are free to 'do as you please' as long as you prepared to accept the consequences of your actions. It is long past time for the brats at the NYT to be reminded of that truth.

Indeed, it is difficult to follow Wretchard after his excellent discourse.

If you use "infantile" to mean "unreasonably selfish", Demosophist, then I can agree with your term. The NYT had all the info, knew what it had, had the warnings of dozens of high-ranking government officials to verify it. Then they published it anyway, to sell papers and advance the owner's and editors' political agenda.

Selfish, very selfish, not one thought for the rest of us, or what sabotaging an intelligence program could mean a few years from now when a Jihadi group gets enough members, money, and material together in one spot to have a go at "9/11 Part 2". The Times would still probably blame Dubya for that, whtether or not he was sitll president,and nevermind the continuity gap. (It's obvious the continuity isn't maintained, the had an editorial DEMANDING a program like the dearly departed SWIFT five years ago....)

It's strange that in spite of the Lefty devotion to groupthink, the Left's members tend to go for immediate self-gratification whenever they can do it, regardless of consequences. Smoking pot, popping ecstasy, shooting heroin, having unprotected sex, throwing red paint on a fur coat, causing massive breaches ofnational security, teh list goes on. "It seemed like the right thing to do at the time." "Sha-la-la-la-la let's live for today."

Feh. I don't know why the concept of idealizing short-term behavior based on emotional feelings of "taking action" ever lasted past 1973. It is a concept whose time has come, and lingered on long past the point of accomplishing anything good. So the owner of the Times can indulge his "if it feels good, do it" mentality by harming the War on Terror, and angering everybody who gives a damn about whether the Islamofascists get another crack at us, or not.

When I was a child, and acted in a selfish manner that resulted in a bad thing happening, I was punished, and told not to repeat the offence. That should be the case for the Times as well. Yes, I know that the leakers comitted the first sin, but if the Times was not so hell-bent on publishing dirt on the current Administration, the leakers wouldn't have anybody to talk to.

I believe it's time the NYT has a change of ownership. It would be un-American to close the paper completely, but there is nothing wrong with persecuting everybody involved in the story, and forcing them to identify their sources. (Thanks again to the NYT for that result of selfish behavior.) It may be too late for SWIFT, but it is not too late to make sure an objective lesson is given out.

Actions, or inactions, have consequences. All mature adults know that. It's time for the top people at the New York Times to learn that as well.

This is a very entertaining attack. Those nasty people who oppose torture -- the Catholics, the Pope, those nasty leaders like the Founding Fathers of the US -- they are all moral scum because they lack the conviction to embrace torture. They are degenerate conservatives stuck in the moral past.

They lack the courage of the new immorality.

They are caught by the cowardice of the old morality.

Very entertaining.

Goering would be proud, and I am impressed -- let it never be said you lack the courage to condemn morality, that you fear to embrace the new American moral relativism.


Thanks for providing an excellent example of infantilism. In spite of the fact that I never suggested it was immoral to oppose torture you managed to use that as an emblem to equate your stand with that of the Pope and the Founding Fathers, as though the latter wouldn't have supported any of the nasty business of war that you believe sullies the hands of the rest of us mortals. But don't worry, you can rescue your integrity by making a choice between some of these tactics and strategies that you oppose and the demand for security. Just go live somewhere where you don't have to depend on people who are making those choices, and resign yourself to the consequences without complaint.

I'm betting, however, that you don't have so much as the shadow of any such intent.

CPT. Charles:

An expo-facto suit against the NYT does not undo or mitigate the carnage of a large-scale jihadi attack.

No, but it does impose a calculus of cost on the editors. And if there's any validity to the game theoretical view of economics that would almost certainly act as a constraint. Right now there is no constraint, other than a vague threat of prosecution that's never actually been carried out.

Just to clarify: many of us lefties have no problem with these programs in theory: we do have a problem with these programs being run without any oversight. The ability to look into the global financial records for terrorism also gives you the ability to look at the financial records of your pollitical opponents, and exploit them until one party controls everything.

This administration hates oversight of any kind. We have this same argument over and over again because the only way our national leaders find out about these programs is by their exposure to the NYT. I'm sure they're are still dozens of other programs we will never find out about, and have never been properly monitored.

That's it. Get a judicial panel to oversee these programs and alot of this flack will go away.

BTW: don't you think that Al Queda already assumes that we're tracking their phone calls, bank transactions, etc. I would.

I tried to post something here, but the submission was rejected because it included a link to b l o g s p o t.c o m. So I just stuck it in an update to the post.

Alchemist #12, it is disingenuous to say that there is no oversight for these programs. They are military programs. The executive branch has oversight for military programs per the Constitution. The legislative branch has funding oversight for military programs.

IMHO, FISA is unconstitutional and should be overthrown. The judicial branch has no oversight for military programs and should have none. Any oversight that it does have was thought up by lawyers and written into law by lawyers as part of their long-lasting power grab. Jamie fricking wall Gorlick and her ilk. After all, who are judges but lawyers with robes? I'll stop the lawyer rant there.

However, we should think long and hard about it before we as a nation hand over any more power to attorneys and proceed any further along the road to a technocracy of lawyers.

Alchemist - this is a straw man. There was oversight for the SWIFT program. Not only was th program approved by members of the Attorney General's office (which, being an executive branch office, may not qualify for you) but it was also briefed repeatedly to both sides of the aisle in Congress.

So, if you are honest about what you said (not having a problem if there was oversight) then you will respond here with an acknowledgement that you were wrong and an endorsement of the administration for pursuing this legal and effective program.

But there is more - your argument makes no sense from a broader perspective. Surely you're not going to pretend that this program - tracking large money transfers in the Int'l banking system, yields information that is more sensitive than that already gathered by the IRS! If there was a plan afoot to illegally harass political opponents, the IRS would be the obvious place to start - not the SWIFT program.

This is what drives centrists and righties nuts about lefty arguments - you make weighty pronouncements about our moral failings or that of the administration while ignoring obvious counter-arguments. I'm not telling you anything that isn't all over the news here...

That being said, I do thank you for not also engaging in name-calling, general arrogance and spiteful declarations that all non-lefties are stupid (as seems to be the rage on the lefty blogs like Maha, KOS, DU, etc.).

Apparently, the Republican definition of "oversight" as it applies to congressional Democrats is telling a few of them that a program exists (but like in the case of the illegal NSA wiretaps, they cannot talk about it to anyone). I can guaran-damn-tee you that whichever lucky Dems were let in on the little "secret", they certainly didn't know the full story (don't count Jane Harman in on this, after all, she's only the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee) which case, they have no power at all to question or convene inquiries into Republican activities even if they think they're warranted.

So tell us, Monk, which Congressional Democrats were informed to provide oversight? Were they even in Congress?

Hey, I'm going to give you all "oversight" over my card game. I've pulled some cards out of my sleeve in the past, taking money from known Republicans who could have otherwise contributed to conservative causes that I disagree with, such as the NRA. Hey, I was acting in my own self-interest. Well, now that you've been informed, I guess its ok. Right?


Yes, but the IRS is a seperate entity from the executive branch, it's a non-pollitical entity, which does it's job (if it does it crappily, it also does it regardless of pollitical affiliation), and it does not (at least to my knowledge) report that information to any other pollitician.

My understanding of this current transaction investigation is that it takes place all directly in pollitical entities beneath the executive branch (I could be wrong, haven't been following closely while I write disseration). Briefing congress is good, I guess I don't particularly trust this adminstrations definition of 'briefing'.

All I want is a group (hopefully apollitical, but I really that's a preety low probability) just to look through the data, and ask questions and just verify that the information is being used for the correct purpose. They don't need to report that information to the public. I'm not saying this is the only plausible strategy, but oversight is needed into these new programs (even if it's just to determine their success rate), and there should be a discussion as to how we prevent abuses.

It's a discussion this administration appears to be avoiding; not just in this issue, but in every issue that's been 'leaked' in the last two years.

Walter's Ridge,

    Apparently, the Republican definition of "oversight" as it applies to congressional Democrats is telling a few of them that a program exists (but like in the case of the illegal NSA wiretaps, they cannot talk about it to anyone). I can guaran-damn-tee you that whichever lucky Dems were let in on the little "secret", they certainly didn't know the full story

Have you considered the possibility that the Democrats involved are not being entirely truthful here?

Think about it ...

You're Jay Rockefeller or Jane Harman. You know that as ranking members of the Congressional Intelligence Committees you have the highest of security clearances, on a par with the Chairmen of the Committees in question (and the President) and higher than that of all other members of Congress, other than the Majority and Minority Leaders.

The Admnistration calls you in for a meeting a few months after 9/11 and tells you that a new program to track and monitor the International calls of terrorists by the NSA has been initiated.

Are you telling me you believe that neither Harman nor Rockefeller, despite meeting at the White House with Michael Hayden, the Vice President and others every 45 days did not think to ask questions about how the program works as they had every right, responsibility and clearance to do?

Because that is the only way either Harman or Rockefeller can claim to be so ignorant of the details of how the NSA Terrorist Surveillance Program works. They have the clearance and so any attempt to wave them off or tell them that they cannot know any more details is not something they would (or should) take lying down.

So there are only two logical explanation for this claim of not knowing the details.

The explanation which sees them in the best light is; they simply didn't ask - which makes them out to be irresponsible incompetents who do not deserve to be ranking members on their respective Committees.

The explanation that puts in the worst light; they asked, they were told and knowing that they cannot be challenged without exposing details the Administration would rather keep secret, they simply chose to lie through their teeth and get their friends in the Press to take their word as gospel without delving too deeply.


I was talking about the SWIFT monitoring program, not the NSA domestic wiretaps, when I said Harman wasn't informed.

Jay Rockefeller is on record as having been informed about the NSA program but disagreeing with it privately (via a contemporaneous letter written to Bush) because the classified nature of the program made it very difficult for him to express his concerns more widely.

In other words, he was informed but could provide no oversight at all. And that is useless and undemocratic.

I do agree with you that Democrats in general, like the new media, have shrunk from confronting the numerous questionable executive power-grab tactics employed by the White House under the false cover of 9/11 or Figthting Terrorism. It is for precisely that reason that I applaud the Times and WSJ for making the SWIFT program more widely known to the American public.

That should be "news media", not "new media".

It is for precisely that reason that I applaud the Times and WSJ for making the SWIFT program more widely known to the American public.

Again, it's completely spurious to claim that there was anything remotely untoward about the SWIFT program. And it's also completely wrong-headed if not just plain stupid to hold that the public needs to be informed of covert activities taken in the WoT, especially those about which there isn't so much as a question of their legality. There's not so much as a dime's worth of legitimacy to that. The NYT printed the story not because it was in the national interest to do so, but because the "gotcha game" has become so dysfunctionally crippling to an institution that has no coherent role to play during wartime, including that vital role of "public intelligence"--which it does so badly that not a single reporter has any inkling of strategy. In other words their heads are so far up their behinds that everything looks like the pancakes they ate two days ago.

Which explains why, for some people, even the pot that Bush pees in has to be thoroughly vetted by the NYT. It's not wisdom, but its opposite: demosagnoia. It's also the best thing Al Qaeda has going for it.


Interesting conspiracy theory, Scott.

Do you have some hard support for your paranoid opinion that this is all part of an organized (presumably Liberal) effort to "get" Bush?

"In other words, he was informed but could provide no oversight at all. And that is useless and undemocratic."

Thats also total BS and proves you have no inkling of how an oversite committee works. As the vice-chairman of the select intelligence committee, Rockefeller had the power to launch investigations, subpoena whatever information or witnesses he chose

Here are the committee rules:

"Rule 6. Investigations
No investigation shall be initiated by the Committee unless at least five members of the Committee have specifically requested the Chairman or the Vice Chairman to authorize such an investigation. Authorized investigations may be conducted by members of the Committee and/or designated Committee staff members.

Rule 7. Subpoenas
Subpoenas authorized by the Committee for the attendance of witnesses or the production of memoranda, documents, records or any other material may be issued by the Chairman, the Vice Chairman, or any member of the Committee designated by the Chairman, and may be served by any person designated by the Chairman, Vice Chairman or member issuing the subpoenas"

There are 7 democracts on the committee. Rockefellar had the authority to start an investigation if he rallied 4 of them at any time. The fact that Dems on the intelligence committees have been utterly asleep at the wheel for years is disgraceful, the fact that they now claim they were kept in the dark and as powerless as kittens is flat out pathetic, not to mention absurd. The only failure here was the failure of political will for the Dems to challenge the WOT when it was at its most popular.

    In other words, [Rockefeller] was informed but could provide no oversight at all. And that is useless and undemocratic.

Not disrespect intended but you're woefully ignorant of exactly how powerful an individual member of Congress can be, especially the ranking member of a committee that is as sensitive as the Intelligence committees.

The Administration could not have silenced Rockefeller even if it tried.

If Rockefeller had wanted to, he could have informed the other members of the Senate Intelligence Committee in closed and secure session (which is usually how the Committee meets) and you know what? Nothing would happen to him.


Because the Constitution itself privileges members of Congress from being in any legal jeopardy for whatever it is they say in the course of their duties. In other words, Russ Feingold can read off the entire NOC list of the CIA on the Senate floor and he'll still be immune.

So, as Mark Buehner above said, Rockefeller could have legally informed the entire committee if he so wished and garnered the support of four out of the seven Democrats serving on the Committee to start an investigation.

He didn't do it.

The same applies to Jane Harman.

And, no matter how you slice it, you cannot blame Bush for a decision made exclusively by two independent individuals.

"The ability to look into the global financial records for terrorism also gives you the ability to look at the financial records of your pollitical opponents, and exploit them until one party controls everything."

If the Bush Adminstration did look at financial records of the Democratic party for exploitation purposes, why didn't the NY Times report it? If the NY Times knows so much about the SWIFT program and how it works, why didn't it report the abuse of the program? Where was the damage? Answer: There was no abuse of the program and no damage to the Democratic party nor the New York Times. There was no reason to publish the story because of what might happen.

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