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NY Times sicks FBI on MSNBC journo

Screw press freedoms - we were hacked

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In 1998, kiddiots Slut Puppy and Master Pimp humiliated the New York Times with a defacement that took the paper's Web site off line for the better part of a day before its clueless admins could regain control of their equipment. This year, the venerable 'Gray Lady', as the paper loves to hear itself called, was stung again by a humiliating hack courtesy of Adrian Lamo, who effortlessly grabbed the private details of James Carville, James Baker, Larry Lessig, Robert Redford, William F. Buckley Jr., Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Rush Limbaugh, Vint Cerf, Warren Beatty and Jimmy Carter, along with hundreds of other noteworthy contributors to its Op-Ed page.

The newspaper pursued Slut Puppy and Master Pimp through federal law enforcement channels, and no one should be surprised to learn that it's pursued Lamo as well in hopes of furthering the fiction that its shit doesn't stink. And that's understandable when the colossal ego of an 'American institution' is on the line. What's not understandable is that in its quest for vengeance, the paper and its FBI anti-hacking Pinkerton squad have commanded members of the press to cough up confidential information regarding the Lamo case, conveniently forgetting that real journalists need to keep their notes and correspondence private in order to do their jobs properly.

One wonders how the NYT would react to a subpoena to turn over its own reporters' notes and e-mail correspondence. We reckon they'd be indignant. Yet they put in motion a process that has rewarded MSNBCi reporter Bob Sullivan with an FBI subpoena to do just that on the Times' behalf.

Sullivan was ordered to surrender e-mail correspondence and interview notes related to Lamo and to SecurityFocus Editorial Director Kevin Poulsen, who has followed Lamo's exploits closely.

Now it gets interesting. The FBI subsequently withdrew the subpoena on grounds that it hadn't been adequately reviewed by the DoJ, which supposedly makes the final call on whether or not a journalist should be persecuted. We know that the FBI is an almost transcendently honourable institution, so we're confident that the negative press potential here had nothing whatever to do with the decision.

It's not known whether or not the subpoena will be re-submitted once Lord Protector Ashcroft has had a chance to look it over; but his record isn't the greatest. Earlier this year he saw to the jailing of freelance journo Vanessa Leggett, who's believed to have confidential information useful to a murder investigation. Leggett spent nearly six months in the federal slam as a reward for being an exemplary -- that is, tight-lipped -- journalist, and still managed not to capitulate to government abuse.

We very much hope that Sullivan (whose work we happen to like, btw) won't have to make a sacrifice like that to keep the NYT feeling good about itself. But the company clearly hasn't a clue about Internet security, as this new and highly amusing story illustrates. And as it exhibits the sort of ethical consistency customary to the touts and pimps lurking about the Bangkok bus terminal, we do worry that it might be in the market for a scapegoat .... any scapegoat. ®

Related Links

Background on the Leggett case [looks like she'd qualify for political refugee status in a number of countries -- ed.]
Forbes journo Adam Pennenberg's similar run-in with the Reno DoJ

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