If you’ve ever doubted that journalism is a powerful tool for undermining the state, first off, you’ve probably not been following the NSA leaks and second, this week US government officials shook in their boots so hard over some new leaks that they spoiled the Associated Press’s scoop on them. This is hardly a new practice, but I think they’re really starting to lose some steam.
While I was away at the “Life is Improv” FEE seminar and YALCon, Jeremy Scahill was sniffing around for some new federal documents on counterterrorism, particularly the Terrorist Screening Database. His revelations, which were posted to The Intercept yesterday included:
• 16,000 people, including 1,200 Americans, have been classified as “selectees” who are targeted for enhanced screenings at airports and border crossings.
• There are 611,000 men on the main terrorist watchlist and 39,000 women.
• The top “nominating agencies” responsible for placing people on the government’s watchlists are: the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
• The top five U.S. cities represented on the main watchlist for “known or suspected terrorists” are New York; Dearborn, Mich.; Houston; San Diego; and Chicago. At 96,000 residents, Dearborn is much smaller than the other cities in the top five, suggesting that its significant Muslim population—40 percent of its population is of Arab descent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau—has been disproportionately targeted for watchlisting. Residents and civil liberties advocates havefrequently argued the Muslim, Arab and Sikh communities in and around Dearborn are unfairly targeted by invasive law enforcement probes, unlawful profiling, and racism.
Real nice, right?
Pretty much all of the key information on the leaks is included in the document, but my favorite part of this was Scahill’s tweet:
US government, pissed we were publishing our story, tried to undermine us by leaking it to other news organization right before we published
— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) August 5, 2014
With publications like the Intercept popping up with such talented journalists, I honestly don’t know why the general public has any faith in the US government anymore. The AP has a watered-down version of the same story, but they really took a hit to their credibility. Looks like we may need a new stylebook in the future.
Additionally, Steven Sutton’s talk at Yalcon about campaign strategy had a large component on how to weasel your way around press questions. Unfortunately my notes on this talk weren’t the best, but my takeaway was that yeah, the government is afraid of us on every scale. So, take a cue from Jeremy Scahill and don’t underestimate your power as a journalist.