Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


The Wednesday, March 09, 2005, New York Times had an editorial entitled Terror Suspects’ Right to Bear Arms. The editorial was based on the Government Accountability Office’s report “Gun Control and Terrorism” released on March 8. What troubled me about today’s Times editorial was its figures did not match the GAO report’s figures.

The Times editorial said, “...that 58 potential gun buyers were flagged in a nine-month period last year as positive matches on a federal watch list of terrorism suspects. The bad news is that 47 of them were cleared to go ahead anyway and buy assault rifles, ammunition or whatever else was on their firearms shopping list.” The GAO report said that there were 44 valid matches (not the Times’ 58) and that 35 (not the Times’ 47) were allowed to proceed. So I read the report again to resolve the difference. Where did the Times get its figures? The answer is from footnote 2 on page 3 of the GAO report.

The footnote says, “In December 2004, FBI officials told us (GAO) that – during the period July 1 through October 31, 2004 – the FBI handled an additional 14 NICS transactions with valid matches to terrorist watch list records, of which 12 were allowed to proceed and 2 were denied. It was beyond the scope of our (GAO) work to assess the reliability or accuracy of the additional data.”

In my view, the New York Times was wrong to inflate the GAO’s published figures by adding data that GAO had not included because GAO could not assess the data’s reliability or accuracy. That the New York Times did this in an editorial rather than a news article makes little difference. I believe the Times’ using questionable data without identifying the data’s uncertainty is wrong.


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