Is the NYT buying and publishing information that helps Hamas?

October 31, 2023 • 9:10 am

This accusation comes from the “Elder of Ziyon” site, which is pro-Israel. But remember that much of the the information you get about the war comes from sites that take one side or the other (or, in the case of papers like the NYT, directly from the mouth of Hamas), so be judicious. In this case I’m going to present the accusation, give the data, and let you decide.

First, here’s the article to consider (click on screenshot to read it):

The anonymous person who wrote this piece (anonymity is imperative for someone who writes a website like this) makes a serious accusation against the New York Times: that by giving Hamas information that it doesn’t have about Israeli troop movements in Gaza—information from satellites that the NYT has to purchase but Hamas cannot—the NYT is helping a terrorist organization, an act that violates U.S. law.

First, let’s look at the article in today’s NYT Click on the screenshot to read read it:

A quote from the article (bolding is mine):

Israel’s military appears to be approaching Gaza City from at least three sides. Photos, videos and satellite imagery show lines of armored vehicles advancing from Gaza’s northern border and taking up positions near a major road farther south.

Israel has provided limited details about the invasion, four days into what an Israeli official described as an “extended ground operation.” But imagery verified by The Times indicates large groups of tanks and other armored vehicles making their way deep into Gaza, as Israel’s military has continued to strike nearby buildings from the air.

In northwest Gaza, a satellite image taken on Monday morning by Planet Labs shows large groups of armored vehicles advancing about three miles south of the northern border near the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Groups of vehicles can be seen amassed in open spaces of the densely populated area of Al Karama, north of Gaza City, less than two miles north of the crowded Shati refugee camp. Many nearby buildings appear to have been heavily damaged or completely destroyed by airstrikes.

Photographs also show a second group of armored vehicles near the city of Beit Hanoun, on the northeast edge of the Gaza Strip. Beit Hanoun had already been significantly damaged by airstrikes in the past several weeks.

Farther south, a video taken by Palestinian media worker Youssef Al Saifi on Monday morning, and verified by The Times, showed an Israeli armored vehicle firing on and destroying a car along Salah al-Din, Gaza’s main north-south road. The car was carrying a family, Mr. Al Saifi said. Satellite imagery from around the same time showed groups of Israeli armored vehicles positioned near the road.

The NYT gives a map:

There’s more, which isn’t in the EoZ article, along with a photo:

Evidence of new vehicle tracks could be seen in satellite imagery, as Israeli troops crossed the border into northern Gaza over the last few days.

There is other stuff from videos released by Israel’s military, but that is public information. But it’s not clear how Israel got video taken by Palestinian media worker Youssef Al Saifi.” Al Saifi has given information to the NYT before. His information above, about a car being hit by the IDF, would seem to be of little except propagandistic use to Hamas, except that the NYT also said this:

Asked about the video, the chief spokesman for the Israeli military, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said that he would not detail the location of Israeli forces.

But the information from satellites is probably far more useful to Hamas, and that’s whgat the EoZ is referring to. The site says this ( bolding is theirs except for the first two sentences in bold, whose emphasis is mine):

This is the New York Times providing intelligence to Hamas, using satellite photos and other information sources Hamas doesn’t have access to. Planet Labs, as far as I know, only provides paid services, and it would not be allowed to provide services to Hamas directly, so why can the New York Times buy and publish the same information where Hamas can read it?

If the NYT was also using its contacts in Gaza to provide information about where tunnel entrances, rocket launchers or groups of Hamas armed members were, then one could say it was being even handed, although it would still be problematic. But for weeks, the only information it has been publishing has been Israeli movements, and speculation on Israeli strategy.

The only people it helps are the terrorists.

And now it is publishing information on exactly where in Gaza the Israeli troops are.

I’m no lawyer, but it sounds like a violation of 18 USC 2339BProviding material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations:

(a) Prohibited Activities.-

(1) Unlawful conduct.-Whoever knowingly provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life. To violate this paragraph, a person must have knowledge that the organization is a designated terrorist organization (as defined in subsection (g)(6)), that the organization has engaged or engages in terrorist activity (as defined in section 212(a)(3)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act), or that the organization has engaged or engages in terrorism (as defined in section 140(d)(2) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1988 and 1989).

Hamas is a designated terrorist organization, and the New York Times knows this. So how can this be legal?

Note that the law is not one forbidding support to enemies of the U.S., but support to any “foreign terrorist organization”. And Hamas is one.

Indeed, if you check the Planet Labs site, you see that they do sell high-resolution real-time satellite imagery, and they could sell it to the NYT. I can’t find a caveat they are prohibited from selling it to Hamas, but I’m sure that prohibition is in effect. Perhaps Hamas could use a pseudonym to get the information, though selling it without checking who’s buying it is probably illegal. But why would Hamas need to buy the information when they can get it for free from the New York Times?

Like the Elder, I’m no lawyer, nor an expert in the ethics of journalism, but unless the NYT is sure it’s publishing information that Hamas already knows from other sources, I think the EoZ has a credible case. And, given that Israel has disrupted communication of Hamas in Gaza, and surely has disrupted the ability of Hamas units to communicate with each other, I don’t see any other way that Hamas could get the kind of information about positions of the Israeli Army that the NYT provides.

So is the paper helping out terrorists? You be the judge.

h/t: Malgorzata for the link

10 thoughts on “Is the NYT buying and publishing information that helps Hamas?

  1. My first thought would be that any imagery the NYT can buy commercially will almost certainly also have been bought by the Iranians, or their proxies, and supplied to Hamas through that route. Is Planet Labs a US company? If so, I’d hope that the appropriate intelligence agency is checking with them to see who’s been buying these images.

    1. Even so, we won’t know where Hamas is getting its information, and the NYT appears to be supplying information that violates the law, even if Hamas is getting that information from other sources.

  2. The law itself states clearly that the information must be provided to the terrorist organization. The NYT is not doing that. It is providing an analysis of legally obtained, publicly available information to the public. The argument that doing something completely legal that might tangentially benefit someone bad is akin to a crime, we’d have to arrest Campbell’s Soup if we learned that Hamas was enjoying a bowl of creamy tomato and basil in their tunnels.

    Additionally, Hamas has access to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of materiel, as well as working hand in glove with Iranian intelligence. Are we to believe that they don’t have access to public satellite info? That they’ll butcher people hiding under their beds, but draw the line at creating a fake name to subscribe to a service?

    1. My reply is that it may not be illegal, but it may be unethical. And the information is available only if you buy it, so you can’t just go online and get it. The question that the article asks is whether this is legal, and you assume that it is “completely legal”. I don’t know the precedents for the article’s claim, but you don’t cite any to show that this is “legal”. And, at any rate, it’s not clear that “creating a fake name” is sufficient to get this information, particularly if you ask for satellite photographs of Gaza.

  3. Ahh Open Source Intelligence. So abundant now that pretty well anyone can gain access to information that once was the preserve of government agencies. Organisations like Bellingcat specialise in analysing and geolocating events such as the massacres by Hamas ( Bellingcat are at the ethical end but if they can do it then can anyone). Janes – the world wide defence company – even has a podcast on OSI which puts things into perspective.

    This is one genie that is well out of the bottle.

  4. If this information is that easy to obtain then we would think that the IDF also has it? and more.
    If they do have it then surely they would also use it to their advantage and make movements to confuse or fool the enemy?
    The IDF is a very formidable force and must be in the business of feint and confuse. It is a common military technique.

  5. The statute does not apply. There is no evidence that NYT is knowingly providing anything to Hamas. ‘Knowingly’ means you know that you are providing to a terrorist organization. Publishing to a general public is nowhere close to knowingly providing; being aware that it is possible that terrorist will get or use is not knowingly. It is a high standard.

  6. The NYT source provides the information behind a paywall, but to many users. NYT provides the information behind a paywall, to even more users. A blog (such as the current one) provides the information for free. All are effectively broadcast media.

    It’s not clear to me which of these sequential parties has the duty to keep their information off the internet.

    Indeed, the same argument against publication could be applied to any journalism, gathered on the ground, not just satellite imagery. Any of it could help Hamas. The only way to prevent that would be to prevent journalism. Which of course is done in some wars and by some regimes.

    Of course, if the maps were found to contain secret pixels in Arabic giving specific advice to the terrorists, that would be another matter.

  7. I suppose the question can be asked (so I will), Why is the NYT publishing the information at all? What public news interest is served by telling the world where Israeli tanks are (or were when the satellite passed over)? How, for instance, does the presence of IDF units in Gaza help us decide whether the IDF has “really” started its invasion or not? Why is that conclusion (disputable as it would be anyway) one that we as ordinary members of the public need to make? “Yep, it’s an invasion all right. Told ya so! Now pay up.”

    We already know that the IDF is probing the enemy’s positions and is carrying out military operations against the territory it is at war against. It’s not like they are carrying out a secret bombing campaign against, I dunno, Iraq. If the pace of operations is too fast or too slow, that is an internal matter for Israel’s government to discuss with the IDF.

    To me it sounds as if the Times is eager to provide any open-source info to Hamas that might help it to level the battlefield and is sheltering behind a strict interpretation of the law against supporting a terrorist organization. It also knows that the U.S. Dept. of Justice does not want a messy, ugly, politically tinged prosecution against a Democratic newspaper. Given that the Times ran a picture of an unrelated destroyed building above its claim that Israel had bombed a hospital, I think it’s clear where its ethical compass points to.

    Were the United States itself at war, it would impose censorship against the news media to prevent the enemy learning about troop and fleet movements from domestic newspapers hostile to the war effort or from friendly ones just making thoughtless leaks of information to satisfy public curiosity about where their sons and daughters had been deployed to.

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