December 10, 2007
Arthur Sulzberger And Bill Keller On Bended Knee, Serf-Like

Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

From time to time The New York Times (how “alliterative,” so to speak, is that?) has been strongly criticized here for failing to report very important stories that it knew about, often that it knew a lot about.  The Timeshas explicitly admitted to doing this; sometimes the admission has been that a newly disclosed story had been withheld, and sometimes the admission has been that still other, still undisclosed stories have been withheld.

The failure to disclose stories has usually occurred at the behest of the Executive; it tells the Times -- which bends the knee, serflike -- that national security would be compromised by disclosure.  The most horrid example of this I know of is the Times more-than-one-year, bended-knee withholding of the story of the NSA’s spying.  This story was initially ready to go in October, 2004, before the November presidential election.  Publication could very conceivably have changed the results of that electi on -- we’ll never know that it wouldn’t have, will we? -- and spared us a second four years of the President who is the second worst disaster in American history (after only James Buchanan (1856-1860)).  So the Times contributed greatly to getting us into the Iraq disaster in the first place by its credulous reporting on WMDs, its buy-the-Administration-line-of-bovine-defecation hook, line and sinker reporting on WMDs, and it then helped keep us in that disaster via contributing to Bush’s 2004 victory by kowtowing to Administration claims and withholding the story of the NSA spying.

It has been suggested here that such a record is ample ground to give the gate to the Times’ publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, who is publisher by inheritance, not by demonstrated competence, and, even more particularly, to the Times’ editor, Bill Keller, who, though a wonderful writer, has nonetheless presided over these editorial misjudgments of monumental, of historic, character.  Of course, illustrating those two American truisms that nothing succeeds like failure (as proven regularly by university presidents, football coaches, and baseball managers, who all get job after job yet perform badly every time, and that none of the big cheeses care a whit for anything said by the small fry of this society (as proven every day by the politicians, especially the Democrat leadership in Congress, while the Times itself, and the rest of the mainstream media prove everyday that they are sycophants to the rich and powerful, as when they report what George Bush had for dinner -- nobody in authority has paid the least attention to the idea that people like Sulzberger and Keller, who are responsible for journalistic disaster, and partly for national disaster, should be replaced.  Like other big deals, Sulzberger and Keller are above their horrid mistakes.

One marvels that the newspaper’s powers that be still accede to the Executive’s bovine excrement.  Before the disastrous withholding of the NSA story, there was the disastrous withholding of the story of the impending, disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, there was attempted Executive suppression of publication of that encyclopedia of Executive misdeeds known as the Pentagon Papers, and there were efforts to smother and hide knowledge of the multiple crimes called Watergate.  But the Times, like most Americans, seems to abjure history and thus to never learn.  So it is that we again learn that it has withheld yet another story at the Executive’s request:  for over three years, it admitted on November 18th, it has sat on the story of American help to Pakistan in securing its nuclear materials against unauthorized use or (further) unauthorized transfer.  It admitted that some of the persons who told it about the program were “concerned that Pakistan’s arsenal remained vulnerable,” but it bent the knee, serflike, to “a request from the Bush Administration, which argued that premature disclosure could hurt the effort to secure the weapons.”  Here are pertinent excerpts from the November 18th article on efforts to secure the weapons (emphases added):

The New York Times has known details of the secret program for more than three years,
based on interviews with a range of American officials and nuclear experts, some of whom
were concerned that Pakistan’s arsenal remained vulnerable.  The newspaper agreed to
delay publication of the article after considering a request from the Bush administration,
which argued that premature disclosure could hurt the effort to secure the weapons.

Since then, some elements of the program have been discussed in the Pakistani news
media and in a presentation late last year by the leader of Pakistan’s nuclear safety effort,
Lt. Gen Khalid Kidwai, who acknowledged receiving “international” help as he sought to
assure Washington that all of the holes in Pakistan’s nuclear security infrastructure had
been sealed.

The Times told the administration last week that it was re-opening its examination of the
program in light of those disclosures and the current instability in Pakistan.  Early this
week, the White House withdrew its request that publication be withheld, though it was
unwilling to discuss details of the program.

* * * * *

Still, the Pakistani government’s reluctance to provide access has limited efforts to assess
the situation.  In particular, some American experts say they have less ability to look into
the nuclear laboratories where highly enriched uranium is produced -- including the
laboratory named for Abdul Qadeer Khan, the man who sold Pakistan’s nuclear technology
to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

* * * * *

But while Pakistan is formally considered a “major non-NATO ally,” the program has been
hindered by a deep suspicion among Pakistan’s military that the secret goal of the United
States was to gather intelligence about how to locate and, if necessary, disable Pakistan’s
arsenal which is the pride of the country.

“Everything has taken far longer than it should,” a former official involved in the program
said in a recent interview, “and you are never sure what you really accomplished.”

* * * * *

But a legal analysis found that aiding Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program – even if it was
just a protective gear – would violate both international and American law.

* * * * *

A potential impediment to such sharing was the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty,
which bars cooperation between nations on weapons technology.

Now it is pretty clear that the American people should have known about this effort because our interests are obviously involved if Pakistan’s nukes are not secure.  But we are not told why secrecy was necessary lest “premature disclosure . . . hurt the effort to secure the weapons,” and no obvious or overriding reason presents itself to this writer’s mind.

On the contrary, perhaps public knowledge would have led to greater public and congressional pressure to do even more and to do it faster.  This is especially so because there are a lot of people who have thought that the Pakistani political situation is not just currently unstable but has long been a disaster-in-waiting, and because some “American officials and nuclear experts . . . were concerned that Pakistan’s arsenal remained vulnerable.”  As well, had the public and Congress known of the matter, maybe Congress would have removed t he impediments of American law, and/or maybe smart nongovernmental lawyers would have given the public and Congress reasons why domestic and international law did not stop us from aiding in securing the Pakistani weapons.  The Times’ own article points out that such legal impediments were able to be circumvented in the past with regard to various other countries, and one would bet the same could have been done here.  The secrecy smacks a lot more of the current Executive’s penchant for secrecy whenever possible than of true legal impedimenta.  By bending the knee, the Times may have made the situation worse than it need have been.

This possibility is further advanced by a front page Wall Street Journal attitude of November 29th, eleven days after the Times broke the story.  (The Journal did not say it had been sitting on the story, so one assumes -- rightly? -- that it learned of it from the Times’ article and then began its own investigation.)  The Journal said that the Pakis (as the Brits call them) are particularly concerned about fervid Muslim fundamentalists who have &ldqu o;‘extreme thoughts’” or “are inclined to force their religious beliefs upon others.”  The threat is increasingly pronounced because of “a rising tide of young people inclined to be more religiously conservative -- and spurred by the U.S. led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, more anti-American.  That includes the college campuses that are most likely to supply recruits to the nuclear program.  ‘You can improve physical security by building high walls and establishing a well-guarded perimeter.  It’s much harder to defend a gainst insiders,’” says Robert Einhorn, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a former assistant secretary of state for weapons and nonproliferation . . . . “Critics say religious conservatism gripping the applicant pool makes it too difficult to discern potentially dangerous zealots.  ‘It’s a source of worry that the secret institutions are seized with religious fervor,’ says Pervez Hoodbhoy, chairman of the physics department at Quaid-e-Azam University, a large source of scientists for Pakistan’s nuclear program.

Moreover, the Journal says that “In late 2001, acting on tips from U.S. intelligence, Pakistan detained two of its retired nuclear scientists who had met with members of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, including Mr. bin Laden.”  One, “who remains under house arrest, had sketched a rough diagram of a nuclear bomb for Mr. bin Laden . . .” although “Pakistan intelligence agents later described the drawing as absurdly basic.”  (How they know that to definitely be true is not disclosed.)

As well, the Journal says that “Pakistan’s hardline Islamic parties have vigorously promoted the nation’s nuclear program as a way for Muslim countries to combat American hegemony -- and don’t share the government’s concern about the kind of security lapses that alarm the U.S. . . . At Quaid-e-Azam University, the nuclear critic Mr. Hoodbhoy says his students are more radical than a previous generation.  They have come up through an education system that increasingly stresses Islamic ritual and came of age in a charged political environment.  There’s widespread sympathy for those fighting Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq, he adds, although most wouldn’t want to live under a Taliban-like regime.”

Now, all of this is enough to worry any American, and presumably could have been learned and become a subject of discussion in America a long time ago had the Times not bent the knee and withheld the story for three years.  The information casts further doubt on George Bush’s misadventure in Iraq, which is fueling the problem, and could even cause one to say, if one wishes, that we went after the wrong enemies entirely when we went into Afghanistan and Iraq, and we should stop those disaster s before middle easterners turn even more against us.  Or maybe one should say that the real enemies, and the truly dangerous ones, are people the imbecile in the White House and his worse-than-that Vice President choose to call allies.  I really don’t know.  What I do believe, however, is that the problem of nukes in Pakiland is a big one, and our efforts to see that they are secured against misuse is something that should have been under public discussion for a long time, and could have been under public and Congressional discussion for awhile had the Times not bent the knee yet again to King George and his minions.

As well, the latest disclosure of Art and Bill on bended knee raises another question which has been asked here before.  What other stories is the Times sitting on instead of disclosing, and how important are they to the safety and well being of this country?  Nobody seems to be asking this question, let alone applying pressure for the Times -- in the absence of re-examination which confirms overriding reasons for secrecy -- to reveal what it knows about matters that are secret from the rest of us.  Isn’t it high time [no pun intended] that writers began to raise questions about the Times’ penchant for secrecy, and began to bring pressure for disclosures of matters currently hidden from the public and thereby immunized from discussion?  Doesn’t history indicate that raising questions and bringing pressure about this would be wise?

This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel.  If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at velvel@mslaw.edu.  Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.


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