TWS contributor Adam White emails:
Harper's Scott Horton doesn't always let the lack of factual evidence get it the way of an exciting conspiracy theory. Last time, he ended up retracting wildly incorrect accusations against National Review Online's Ed Whelan, whom he called a "torture-enabler" and whom he incorrectly accused of working with the CIA on interrogation issues. Now he's at it again, this time focusing on new reports of an alleged secret anti-al-Qaeda program at the CIA.
In a breathless post featuring a suitably subtle headline ("... Cheney Snuff Program"), Horton discusses recent New York Times and Wall Street Journal reports of an alleged CIA program (which, as the NYT notes, is "still-unidentified"), and he asserts that "It was apparently former Vice President Cheney's pet project, and he seems to have had some role directing it."
But neither the NYT and WSJ articles say any such thing. In fact, the WSJ contradicts Horton's characterization, specifically stating that "[t]he former [intelligence] official [who provided background to the WSJ] said he had been told that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney didn't support such an operation. The effort appeared to die out after about six months, he said." Neither the WSJ nor the NYT offers any allegations as to the Vice President's role in the actual substance of the program (whatever the program was), except that he allegedly called for the "still-unidentified program" to be kept secret. Horton's attempt to stretch these stories to suit his own predetermined conclusions simply isn't supported by the press accounts that he cites.
Even apart from Horton's straightforward factual error, his report demonstrates an embarrassing level of disregard for journalistic quality. Given the utter lack of detail as to what the "still-unidentified program" was or the extent to which the program had been put into effect -- the NYT reports that "the program never went fully operational" -- it's simply impossible to responsibly conclude that the program secrecy was improper under the Constitution or the statute governing administration disclosure of sensitive intelligence programs to Congress (50 USC Â§ 413b), or to speculate as to the extent to which the Vice President directed the "still-unidentified program."
Thoughtful, serious journalists would secure factual evidence for their allegations before announcing them to the world. Unfortunately, Harper's hired Scott Horton instead.