double secret

A district attorney I used to cover would punish reporters who wrote tough stories about him by putting them on something called “double-secret probation,” the idea being that your sources would dry up, your calls wouldn’t get returned and you wouldn’t even know why.

That same sort of absurdity is at work in this week’s Supreme Court ruling that reporters and others don’t have legal “standing” to challenge the government’s habit of secretly wiretapping Americans without a warrant. The reasoning of the majority is that journos don’t have standing because, ummm, they can’t prove that their communications are targeted, which they can’t because who is targeted is….a secret.

Or as the headline on this note neatly puts it, “Secret Wiretapping Cannot Be Challenged Because It’s Secret.” In other words, if the government is good enough at keeping its secrets, you’ll never know you were targeted, so you’ll never know enough to have “standing,” or at least not until life-altering damage is done.  It’s double-secret probation, except the stakes are so much higher than not getting a call returned. The Obama administration has shown great enthusiasm for pursuing people who leak information, and this week’s ruling will make already reluctant sources more reluctant still.

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