Friday, March 05, 2004

Dept. of Exegesis Some thoughts on the Judiciary Commitee hacking report (the Pickle Report), in the form of a dissection of The New York Times' coverage from this morning's paper:

1) Summarizing the report, Neil A. Lewis delivers this account of how the pilfering began:

An inexperienced computer coordinator did not make files adequately inaccessible...Lundell [a Republican staffer] observed the coordinator opening files with a few key strokes and then copied what he had done.

Now, right off the bat, this is interesting. It means that we are dealing not with a computer hotshot or an aide absently clicking his way around the server, but instead someone who a) watched a systems administrator manipulate files, b) gleaned a thing or two about the server's structure from the administrator's manipulations and c) realized that he could use the administrator's technique to read Democratic files surreptitiously.

I'd asked, previously, whether the pilfering would ultimately be seen as akin to someone stumbling upon a secret memo left in plain sight, or more like someone walking into an unlocked office and scanning everyone's desk for revealing documents.

Lewis' characterization certainly points to the latter interpretation.

In fact, the better analogy, it seems, is to someone who watches a locksmith open a door, and then goes around the corner and jimmies his way into his neighbor's house.

2) Given the nature and extent of the pilfering, it's not surprising that Sen. Orrin Hatch, the committee's Republican chairman, felt compelled to respond to the report this way (according to Lewis' quote):

"I am mortified that this improper, unethical and simply unacceptable breach of confidential files occurred."

Some folks on the right are outraged that Hatch would "cave" in to Democrats on this issue. But what else could he say? "They were just kidding around?"

The intrusion was deliberate, extensive and prolonged. Miranda and Lundell downloaded 4,670 documents for crying out loud! Even a Republican foot solider like Hatch can't just brush that aside.

3) Another tidbit worth scrutinizing:

Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, wrote to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales asking if his office received any of the stolen information. Gonzales offered a denial, saying: "I am not aware of any credible allegation of White House involvement in this matter."

As Joshua Marshall has explained, Gonzalez's response isn't a true denial. All Gonzales has said--if you take a close look at the statement--is that he knows of no "credible allegation" (emphasis added) that the White House was involved.

But that's not the same as denying any involvement outright. If the White House has learned anything from the Clinton administration, it's how to counter charges without flatly denying them.

In truth, and as Leahy's question implies, the Pickle Report leaves many of the most salient questions about the hacking unanswered: We still don't know who (aside from some right wing publications) the downloaded documents were ultimately passed along to, what uses they were put to, and whether Miranda and Lundell were taking their orders from anyone else.

It's certainly possible that the two aides were acting by themselves, and that they never relayed their findings to anyone else working on the Judiciary Committee.

But that seems fantastically unlikely.

4) Finally, a few words about the headline that the Times' piece was give in the San Francisco Chronicle:

GOP stole peek at Dems' papers

"Stealing a peek" is a good way to describe what's going on when a group of twelve-year-old boys wander over to the porn rack at a local video store.

But the unethical downloading of 4,670 Democratic documents over eighteen months seems to launch Miranda and Lundell straight out of "peeking" territory.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.