The Washington Post's bombshell story about the National Security Agency violating surveillance privacy rules at least 2,776 times, which Scott Shackford blogged about last night, included a delightfully in-your-face sidebar from national security reporter Barton Gellman, titled "NSA statements to The Post."
The whole thing is worth a read, but the last two paragraphs provide an object lesson of how news organizations should treat government attempts to dictate and manipulate the terms of their own attribution:
The Obama administration referred all questions for this article to John DeLong, the NSA's director of compliance, who answered questions freely in a 90-minute interview. DeLong and members of the NSA communications staff said he could be quoted "by name and title" on some of his answers after an unspecified internal review. The Post said it would not permit the editing of quotes. Two days later, White House and NSA spokesmen said that none of DeLong's comments could be quoted on the record and sent instead a prepared statement in his name. The Post declines to accept the substitute language as quotations from DeLong. The statement is below.
We want people to report if they have made a mistake or even if they believe that an NSA activity is not consistent with the rules. NSA, like other regulated organizations, also has a "hotline" for people to report — and no adverse action or reprisal can be taken for the simple act of reporting. We take each report seriously, investigate the matter, address the issue, constantly look for trends, and address them as well — all as a part of NSA's internal oversight and compliance efforts. What's more, we keep our overseers informed through both immediate reporting and periodic reporting. Our internal privacy compliance program has more than 300 personnel assigned to it: a fourfold increase since 2009. They manage NSA's rules, train personnel, develop and implement technical safeguards, and set up systems to continually monitor and guide NSA's activities. We take this work very seriously.
The only thing that would have made this exchange more delicious is if Gellman had quoted DeLong's original comments from the 90-minute interview in the main article. Next time, hopefully!