Good Disclosures and Bad Ones

Slate's blog on legal issues.
March 27 2008 11:08 PM

Good Disclosures and Bad Ones

If I can wade into the debate on the Times ' publication of the Risen & Lichtblau NSA wiretapping story, I think the Times acted relatively carefully but James Risen's subsequent solo book "State of War" was quite reckless.  The original story by the Times didn't explain specifically how the wiretapping had occurred, and therefore didn't give America's enemies a roadmap to avoiding future interception. The original story just said that calls and e-mails were "intercepted," which in and of itself doesn't reveal anything about sources and methods.

In contrast, Risen's solo book gave our enemies the roadmap.   It explained that the NSA program took advantage of the fact that much of the world's telephone and Internet trafffic happens to be routed through U.S. switches.  When passing through the U.S., the book explained, the NSA could and did access the foreign-to-foreign calls that were momentarily inside the U.S. No warrant needed; everything was available and easily vacuumed up.

If you're part of a foreign government or a terrorist group, that's extremely valuable information to have.  You now know to avoid any technologies that might inadvertently route communications through the U.S. because the NSA is going to look at everything that touches the States.  Want to avoid wiretapping?  Stick to communications systems that stay local.  The NSA may still be able to get snippets, but they won't get everything.


I don't know how to calculate the long-term damage to our national security caused by this disclosure in Risen's book.  But I would expect it was (and will be) enormous.



The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers


Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
Dear Prudence
Oct. 23 2014 6:00 AM Monster Kids from poorer neighborhoods keep coming to trick-or-treat in mine. Do I have to give them candy?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 8:51 AM The Male-Dominated Culture of Business in Tech Is Not Great for Women
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 9:00 AM Exclusive Premiere: Key & Peele Imagines the Dark Side of the Make-A-Wish Program
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.