Thursday, May 04, 2006


MMfA: O'Reilly lies about NYT tipping off terrorists on illegal wiretapping

On The O'Reilly Factor, retired Army officer claimed New York Times "damage[d] the country" by tipping off "the terrorists" to "get off your cell phones"

Ralph PetersResponding to Fox News host Bill O'Reilly's suggestion that "the American press" might be "helping terrorists," New York Post columnist and retired Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, right, claimed that the December 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning report by The New York Times exposing the National Security Agency's (NSA) warrantless domestic spying program did just that. Peters, the author of New Glory: Expanding America's Global Supremacy (Sentinel, August 2005), asserted that the report "told them, the terrorists, 'Get off your cell phones, get off the Net. Find other ways to communicate.' " Peters added that the warrantless eavesdropping program wasn't "wiretapping you or me or your viewers" but was instead "tapping suspected terrorists and their connections." Peters's comments came during the May 1 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor.

In fact, contrary to Peters's suggestion that the Times story tipped off terrorists that their communications were being monitored, as Media Matters has noted, Al Qaeda has reportedly been taking precautions for years to avoid surveillance of its cell-phone conversations, notably through the use of untraceable disposable cell phones. For example, on January 12, in a story about bulk purchases of disposable cell phones in the United States, ABC News reported that Al Qaeda used disposable cell phones in its March 2004 bombings in Spain. Additionally, an October 17, 2002, USA Today article indicated Al Qaeda's awareness of the issue and its use of countermeasures against NSA eavesdropping. USA Today stated: "The NSA faces new obstacles in penetrating al-Qaeda because the terror group has learned how to evade U.S. interception technology -- chiefly by using disposable cell phones or by avoiding phones altogether and substituting human messengers and face-to-face meetings to convey orders." Media Matters has also noted that Osama bin Laden reportedly stopped using his satellite phone within days of the August 20, 1998, U.S. attack on Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.

Moreover, as Media Matters has noted, contrary to Peters's suggestion that the eavesdropping program has not involved average Americans, The Washington Post reported on February 5 that, according to "current and former government officials and private-sector sources," intelligence officers used the program to eavesdrop "on thousands of Americans in overseas calls" but "dismissed nearly all of them as potential suspects after hearing nothing pertinent to a terrorist threat." Similarly, The New York Times reported on January 17 that, according to "current and former officials," "virtually all" of the tips provided by the NSA to the FBI under the warrantless spying program "led to dead ends or innocent Americans."

Full Media Matters for America story.

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