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Home > Publications > Quill > SDX Awards: Washington Correspondence


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Tuesday, July 3, 2007
SDX Awards: Washington Correspondence

Winner: Siobhan Gorman, The Baltimore Sun

by Jim Poyser

The NSA has spent six years and hundreds of millions of dollars trying to kick-start a program, intended to help protect the United States against terrorism, that many experts say was doomed from the start.

When Siobhan Gorman first joined The Baltimore Sun in 2005, she immediately turned her attention to the National Security Agency, specifically, to an expensive program called Trailblazer. Her three-story series examined Trailblazer as the “NSA’s effort to figure out how to collect intelligence in the Digital Age … but six years and more than $1 billion later, the program has gone essentially nowhere.”

With interviews conducted over three months with 25 intelligence professionals, 13 of whom worked on or had oversight of Trailblazer, Gorman exposed the NSA’s failed attempts to adapt to the modern world.

According to Timothy A. Franklin, editor/senior vice president, Gorman used the most basic reporting techniques: “doggedly tracking down sources, persuading them to talk and give her documents, and using Freedom of Information requests to pry declassified reports from oversight agencies. Then she painstakingly assembled those pieces into reports that laid bare some of the dangerous shortcomings of the nation’s largest — and, until recently, least-known — intelligence unit.”

Although the Bush administration spent much of the past week defending the NSA’s eavesdropping work as vital to keeping Americans safe from terrorism, virtually no attention has been paid to the agency’s failure to deliver the system the NSA said was key to fulfilling that mission.

Judges applauded Gorman’s clear, concise and readable style: “The writing … shows unusual initiative in cultivating dozens of sources from the NSA … [Gorman] shattered the illusion of the supremacy of the agency and illustrates layers of wasteful spending and incompetence.”

For Gorman, it was gratifying to find out her stories had impact as she learned “both the incoming director of national intelligence and the Pentagon’s new intelligence chief are also looking into NSA’s modernization woes.”

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