NYT Compares Bush Actions to Illegal CIA Spying During Cold War

Intelligence reporter Scott Shane's "news analysis" marked the CIA's release yesterday of its "family jewels" - classified documents pertaining to the agency's cloak-and-dagger actions in the 1960s and 1970s.

"Comparing Today's Tactics With Those Used in the Past" on Wednesday followed the template already established by the media in suggesting the Bush administration engages in similar abuses. The text box: "Have the intelligence agencies eclipsed their actions of the Vietnam era?"

"When the Central Intelligence Agency took a nervous look at its past in 1973, one potential illegal act officials identified was the treatment of a K.G.B. officer named Yuri Nosenko. After fleeing to the United States in 1964, Mr. Nosenko was held in a makeshift jail for three years and subjected to tough questioning to determine whether he was a genuine defector or a plant.

"A C.I.A. document released Tuesday said officials 'became increasingly concerned with the illegality of the agency's position in handling a defector under these conditions for such a long period of time.' So Mr. Nosenko was moved to a more comfortable safe house, given friendlier treatment and felt 'no bitterness' about his experience after he resettled with a new wife, said the 1973 memorandum recounting the case.

"In an era when secret C.I.A. detentions have become a mainstay of the news, the comparison is hard to avoid. Since 2002, the agency has jailed nearly 100 suspected terrorists overseas and subjected some of them to far harsher interrogations than Mr. Nosenko's. The program is not seen as an agency lapse, and instead has been vigorously defended by C.I.A. officials and President Bush.

"Comparisons between different historical eras are always tricky. With an incomplete account of C.I.A. misdeeds in its first quarter century from the so-called family jewels, released this week with many redactions, and a presumably even more incomplete knowledge of the spy agencies' actions since 2001, such a comparison is inevitably flawed.

"But it is also irresistible. And it raises a provocative question: do the actions of the intelligence agencies in the era of Al Qaeda, which include domestic eavesdropping without warrants, secret detentions and interrogations arguably bordering on torture, already match or even eclipse those of the Vietnam War period?"

"Domestic eavesdropping," as Times Watch has noted before, is a highly misleading characterization of what the National Security Agency is actually doing.

"At both times, Americans faced a hostile global ideology - communism then, violent Islamic jihadism today - and feared cells hidden in their midst. In the face of such a threat, it may be no surprise that secret agencies, wielding powerful technology and with the formidable backing of a president, sometimes come into conflict with democratic ideals.

"On Tuesday, the C.I.A. director, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, tried to pre-empt such comparisons in a message to agency employees that was part cheerleading and part explanation of why the agency had finally released the documents, first requested in 1992 under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive at George Washington University."

Shane has been a bit of a cheerleader himself - for closing the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay. Catch the overheated lead to a June 2006 story by Shane: "If an enemy devised a diabolical plot to darken America's image, it is hard to imagine anything operating more efficiently toward that end than the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba." And in July 2005, Shane painted anti-war liar Joseph Wilson as a victim of Bush.