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Another Book Fraud?

Oprah’s show featuring her apology for hyping the James Frey book A Million Little Pieces was marred by the appearances of Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, the paper that employed the plagiarist and fabricator Jayson Blair. The Blair scandal forced the resignations of top Times editors. He had gotten a job at the Times through an affirmative action program that still remains in effect. Now, serious questions have been raised about some of the sensational charges being made by Times reporter James Risen in his book, State of War

Rich, who appeared live on Oprah, and Dowd, who was on tape, were supposed to represent the heightened vigilance of the mainstream press to fakers and con artists. Rich, a venomous Bush-hater, played politics by trying to connect Frey, a serial liar, to the Bush Administration’s rationale for going to war in Iraq. His obsession with the President borders on the pathological. He was even more of an embarrassment than Frey, who sat stone-faced throughout much of the show as the key ingredients of his book were shown to be lies and exaggerations. It was good television, but it would have been far better if Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd had been left off the show. They added nothing.

Dowd, another Bush-hater, made a nasty personal comment about the need for Oprah to kick Frey’s butt, but Dowd mispronounced Frey’s name in the process, showing that she was unfamiliar with the basic facts of the controversy, such as the author’s name. But the question remains: why would Oprah invite representatives from the Times on a show about the need for more accountability and professionalism from the book publishing industry? A Times reporter, James Risen, is the author of a new book, State of War, that could possibly do far more damage than James Frey’s phony “memoir” about his drug and alcohol problems. The Risen book, State of War, benefited from an illegal leak of classified information about an NSA spying program to uncover al-Qaeda operations on American soil.

The book has some other “revelations,” such as Risen’s claim that “some journalists” in Washington’s power circles are among those relying on “Saudi money or Saudi access” and, in the process, have ignored or suppressed information “about Saudi links to Islamic extremism.” This sensational charge is on page 177 of his book, but he names no names. Isn’t that interesting? Why Is Risen allowed to get away with making such a controversial charge without backing it up with evidence? Are any of these journalists at the Times or the Washington Post? I had hoped to question him about it, but his publicist says he is not giving any more interviews for the time being. He did have time, however, to appear on The Daily Show on Comedy Central.

The Risen book, which directly attacks “conservative ideologues” in the Bush Administration, is why the major media have endlessly repeated the misleading claim that, “for the first time since the Watergate-era abuses, the NSA is spying on Americans again, and on a large scale.” This is what Risen claims on page 43 of his book.

In his speech at Georgetown University Law Center, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales ripped into the press accounts of the “purported activities” of the NSA. He said, “These press accounts are in almost every case, in one way or another, misinformed, confusing, or wrong. And unfortunately, they have caused concern over the potential breadth of what the President has actually authorized.” Gonzalez, like the President, calls it a “terrorist surveillance program.” But Risen, the media and liberal Democrats would prefer to say that it constitutes domestic spying on Americans.

It is an obvious effort to suggest that what the Bush Administration is doing is not only illegal and unconstitutional but impeachable.  

But Gonzalez declared that “?for as long as electronic communications have existed, the United States has conducted surveillance of those communications during wartime?all without judicial warrant. In the Civil War, for example, telegraph wiretapping was common, and provided important intelligence for both sides. In World War I, President Wilson ordered the interception of all cable communications between the United States and Europe; he inferred the authority to do so from the Constitution and from a general congressional authorization to use military force that did not mention anything about such surveillance. So too in World War II; the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt authorized the interception of all communications traffic into and out of the United States. The terrorist surveillance program, of course, is far more focused, since it involves only the interception of international communications that are linked to al Qaeda or its allies.”

Just two paragraphs before Risen makes his sensational claim about the administration violating the rights and privacy of Americans on a large scale, he refers to how the Bush Administration has supposedly established “a series of secret prisons around the world?” for suspected terrorists. Dana Priest of the Washington Post had originally reported in a November 2, 2005, story that the CIA had created “a covert prison system” in various countries. The story ran under the headline, “CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons.”

But the evidence-which is supposed to be important to journalists-is lacking. A headline over a January 25 story by Craig S. Smith in Risen’s own New York Times was “Europe’s C.I.A. Inquiry finds no Evidence of Secret Prisons.” The story reported, “An inquiry by the Council of Europe into allegations that the C.I.A. has operated secret detention centers in Eastern Europe has turned up no evidence that such centers ever existed, though the leader of the inquiry, Dick Marty, said there are enough ‘indications’ to justify continuing the investigation.”

Notice how the “prisons” had become “detention centers.” Even so, no evidence was produced that they had ever existed. There are some allegations that suspected terrorists may have been briefly held on European soil or by some other countries, but this alleged practice hardly constitutes a network of “secret prisons,” as Risen and Priest described it, or even “detention centers.”

Will Risen’s publisher issue a correction of this claim in his book? Will he apologize? Don’t count on it.

Like James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, Risen’s State of War is supposed to be true. I’m beginning to have my doubts. The NSA program certainly exists because administration officials have been forced to defend it. But Risen, his sources and his media collaborators have so distorted its nature and purpose as to make it seem like something it is not. That, too, is a form of fraud. But don’t expect to see James Risen in the hot seat on Oprah-or any other television program for that matter. This kind of fraud serves partisan political purposes.