Traitors of Record: The Record of the New York Times
“. . .the most untrustworthy paper in the United States. . .”
--President Dwight Eisenhower, referring to the New York Times
Last week Senator John Cornyn criticized the New York Times for endangering national security with a James Risen story on NSA surveillance timed to coincide with a vote on the Patriot Act and, incidentally, with the release of a book by Risen. A review of the record illustrates that endangering national security through irresponsible leaks is nothing new for the New York Times. Some particularly outrageous examples are worth recalling here to underscore why action against the New York Times is long overdue.
Background: A Failed Housecleaning
It is well known that the Times has been criticized for failing to whole-heartedly repudiate the reporting of Walter Duranty, who has been dubbed “Stalin’s Apologist” for echoing Soviet propaganda throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Less often discussed is the fact that Duranty’s reporting was not an isolated case at the Times.
At the turn of the 20th century publisher Adolph Ochs had gained his controlling interest in the Times with financial assistance from Jacob Schiff of the banking firm Kuhn Loeb. Schiff was a key financier of pre-Soviet Marxism in the US as well as the Bolshevik revolutionaries in Russia. Schiff and Ochs cofounded the Henry Street Settlement, which became an early center of Marxist and Soviet activity in the US.
Ochs was succeeded as Times publisher in 1935 by Arthur Hays Sulzberger. Sulzberger had sympathized with the Communist cause as a youth, but gradually drifted towards anti-Communism as the Cold War approached. In the process he became concerned about the Communist Party’s efforts to infiltrate the Times through the American Newspaper Guild, whose New York local was dominated by Communists.
The American Newspaper Guild attempted to purge Communist elements in 1948, but this effort was only partially successful. After the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS) began an investigation of Communist infiltration of the newspaper industry, the exposure of a cell that included Times reporter Clayton Knowles prompted the Times to begin conducting an internal probe in 1954. The probe and SISS investigation resulted in the firing of Times copyeditor Melvin Barnet. SISS ended up calling 30 witnesses from the Times to testify in December 1955 hearings.
To what extent these attempts to purge Communist elements from the Times were successful is unknown. But what may be documented is that the Times has had a continuous record of compromising national security by leaking classified information from the late 1950s on.
Exhibit A: Compromising the U-2
Reporter Joseph Alsop started out the Cold War anti-Soviet. But he was careless with his sex life--to put it delicately--and while he was travelling to Moscow to cover a story, the KGB photographed him in a compromising position to try to blackmail him into working as a spy. Seeking a way out of the trap he had been lured into, Alsop went for help to his State Department friend Charles Bohlen, who was suspected by the FBI and Senate investigators of being similarly compromised. Some researchers have reported sources claiming that Bohlen was able to get friends in the CIA to help Alsop out of the situation. But other information suggests there was more to the story.
In early 1960 Alsop wrote a story for the New York Times hinting at US knowledge of secret Soviet missile developments. This story came in the midst of an election-year debate over whether the Eisenhower administration’s fiscally-conservative defense policies had allowed a “missile gap” to open by letting Soviet technology outpace US progress. President Eisenhower knew from U-2 surveillance that in fact the US remained well ahead of the Soviets and there was no missile gap, but he could not publicly reveal this without compromising the top-secret U-2 program. Alsop was friends with the CIA agent in charge of the U-2 program, Richard Bissell, and the information in Alsop’s story on Soviet missile developments was based on information generated by U-2 surveillance. Eisenhower could not refute Alsop’s intimation of a missile gap without exposing the U-2 program in the process. The resulting “missile gap” stigma played a significant role in swinging the 1960 election to John Kennedy.
Eisenhower was normally noted for his calm temperament and slowness to anger, and it took a great deal to make him lose his temper. But when he saw Alsop’s article, he reportedly “exploded”. As Eisenhower biographer Stephen Ambrose records, one of Eisenhower’s associates noted that “the President is extremely angry and has talked at length about the lack of loyalty to the U.S. of these people. In his estimation Joseph Alsop is about the lowest form of animal life on earth. . .” On another occasion Eisenhower called the Times “the most untrustworthy paper in the United States”.
Exhibit B: Sabotaging the Bay of Pigs
A year after Alsop’s article, the Times published an article by Tad Szulc exposing the CIA’s plan for an upcoming attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro by inserting an invasion force into Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.
During Castro’s rise to power in the 1950s he had been supported by Times reporter Herbert Matthews, who had previously given sympathetic coverage to the Communist side during the Spanish Civil War. Castro’s ascent was also supported by a left-wing faction in the State Department, which continually interfered with the CIA’s planning for the Bay of Pigs operation, advising Kennedy to make various tactically-stupid changes including calling off air strikes that were crucial to the success of the operation. One of Castro’s State Department sympathizers, Chester Bowles, decided to sabotage the Bay of Pigs operation by leaking the invasion plan to the press.
Through contacts in the Cuban exile community, the invasion plan came to the attention of Szulc. Szulc had been suspected by US intelligence of being a foreign agent since 1948, when an FBI file identified him as a Communist. In 1959 the CIA also became suspicious of him when he falsely claimed clearance in an attempt to obtain classified information. Later in the 1970s the FBI would observe him in contact with a KGB agent, and the CIA would link his daughter to Cuban spy Philip Agee.
Szulc’s article on the Bay of Pigs operation was published in the New York Times on April 7, 1961, less than two weeks before the planned invasion. Although Szulc’s supervisors forced him to delete some information on national security grounds at the request of CIA Director Allen Dulles, they allowed him to publish the story over the objections of both Dulles and the Times’ own Washington bureau chief James Reston, and they allowed the final draft of the article to include a reference to a CBS News report which mentioned the deleted information.
To keep things in perspective, it should be noted that the failure of the Bay of Pigs was ultimately more due to the State Department’s interference with the air strikes than to Szulc’s article. But Szulc and the Times certainly did their share to help keep Castro in power.
Exhibit C: Helping the Vietcong
In December 1966 Times reporter Harrison Salisbury became the first American journalist allowed in North Vietnam. Salisbury has previously been the Times’ Soviet correspondent. His entry to North Vietnam was arranged by Wilfred Burchett, an Australian journalist who worked for the KGB and for the pro-Vietcong news outlet Dispatch News Service.
Dispatch News Service had been founded by the Marxist think tank the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), linked to Soviet and Cuban intelligence. IPS financier Philip Stern also funded the Fund for Investigative Journalism, which paid for upcoming reporter Seymour Hersh to research allegations of atrocities committed by US soldiers at My Lai. Hersh’s My Lai story was provided by Dispatch News to the New York Times.
The Times’ coverage of My Lai inspired the European-based Soviet front group the International War Crimes Tribunal, whose conferences Burchett had attended, to launch an American arm of its investigation. The Tribunal’s call for an American investigation led to what became the Vietnam Veterans Against the War’s Winter Soldier investigation, which prompted the Senate hearings that propelled John Kerry to fame. (Later as Senator Kerry would hire former Dispatch News Service bureau chief Gareth Porter to be his legislative aide.)
After running Hersh’s My Lai story and covering Kerry’s war crimes allegations, the Times and IPS helped Pentagon consultant Daniel Ellsberg leak The Pentagon Papers, a selectively-edited account of US policy in Vietnam calculated to discredit the US war effort. In addition to damaging the US war effort, The Pentagon Papers also had a double effect, for in an effort to counter Ellsberg’s propaganda efforts, the White House staff authorized a series of illegal surveillance actions that ultimately led to the Watergate scandal and President Nixon’s resignation.
Exhibit D: Undermining American Counterintelligence Capability
In the wake of Watergate, the Times and liberal elements in the CIA capitalized on the scandal by using it as a pretext to push for a reorganization of the intelligence community along liberal lines. This push was triggered by a leak from CIA Director William Colby to Seymour Hersh, which resulted in a December 22, 1974 New York Times article titled “Huge C.I.A. Operation Reported in U.S. Against Anti-War Forces”. Although there was a real story of actual abuses to be told here, Hersh’s article and follow-up allegations later proved exaggerated. But Hersh’s article served Colby’s purpose. Colby used the leak to force the resignation of counterintelligence veteran James Angleton, the bastion of hard-line anti-Communism in the CIA. Meanwhile Congressional contacts of the antiwar movement called for investigations into Hersh’s allegations. These investigations culminated in the recommendation of sweeping reforms of the intelligence community.
The implementation of these “reforms” over 1976 and 1977 took the form of a systematic stripping of US counterintelligence capability. This included abolishing Congressional and Department of Justice bodies assigned to monitor subversive activity, eliminating the internal security branch of the FBI's intelligence division, and dismissing several hundred of the CIA’s experts on Communism. Antiwar leaders such as Ramsey Clark tried to push this even further by promoting legislation which would have virtually eliminated the FBI, but this effort failed.
Historians of the intelligence community have traced a direct line from these so-called reforms to the intelligence community’s failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks. And it is not hard to see how Hersh’s allegation of the CIA’s domestic spying operations stands as a prototype for James Risen’s allegation of NSA domestic spying operations. The Times is up to its old tricks again.
An exhaustive list of instances when the New York Times has endangered national security over the past half century would take many more pages, but the point has been made. Enough is enough. The Times’ blatant subversion of the United States under the guise of a twisted interpretation of the Constitutional right to free speech needs to end. The Constitutional guarantee to freedom of speech depends first and foremost on the existence of the United States, and that existence is now being jeopardized by an Orwellian rag run by morally warped propagandists who think betraying their country is a badge of honor and who will stoop to any depth of deceit in order to sidestep whatever laws or constitutional processes stand in the way of their unelected agenda. Our Constitution makes room for three branches of government. It delegates no authority whatsoever to a fourth estate, much less a fifth column. It’s time for our elected officials and the American people to tell the Times that time is up.
Ambrose, Stephen E. Eisenhower: Soldier and President. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990.
Lynch, Grayston L. Decision for Disaster: Betrayal at the Bay of Pigs. Washington: Brassey’s, 1998.
Newsworkers: Toward a History of the Rank and File. Edited by Hanno Hardt and Bonnie Brennen. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.
Powell, S. Steven. Covert Cadre: Inside the Institute for Policy Studies. Introduction by David Horowitz. Ottawa, Illinois: Green Hill Publishers, Inc., 1987.
Riebling, Mark. Wedge: The Secret War Between the FBI and CIA. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.
Stepan-Norris, Judith and Zeitlin, Maurice. Left Out: Reds and America’s Industrial Unions. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Tifft, Susan E. and Jones, Alex S. The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind The New York Times. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1999.
Wannall, W. Raymond. “Undermining Counterintelligence Capability”. CI Centre. http://www.cicentre.com/Documents/DOC_Wannall_Undermining_Intel.htm
Wells, Tom. Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg. New York: Palgrave, 2001.