Patterico's Pontifications

6/28/2006

Debunking the Lefties’ Arguments About the Swift Program — in One Convenient Post

Filed under: Dog Trainer,Media Bias,Scum,Terrorism — Patterico @ 6:33 pm



Those desperate to minimize the significance of the exposure of the Swift program have repeatedly advanced three spurious arguments. I have already addressed these arguments, and would like to collect the links in one convenient post.

1. The minimizers insist that the articles didn’t really tell the terrorists anything they didn’t already know; therefore it cannot have harmed our counterterror effort. Andrew Sullivan speaks for many misguided lefties when he says:

I can’t believe that key terrorists were unaware their finances might be watched and frozen until the NYT and WSJ told them . . .

This is not the point, as I explained here. The issue is not that the stories told the terrorists we were watching financial transactions, but that the stories told them how.

Drug dealers know that police watch their transactions and sometimes send in undercover cops to buy from them. But I think the cops might still object, and the dealers might be very pleased indeed, if we pointed out the secret locations from which the cops conduct their surveillance, or if we gave them the names and full physical descriptions of all undercover officers working in their area.

Additionally, if the terrorists already knew all this, how did we catch so many of them with the program?

Terrorists are not supermen. They don’t know everything, and many of them clearly did not know about Swift. Now they do.

2. The minimizers squeal that the program is symptomatic of an Administration that is out of control, determined to invade our privacy with absolutely no oversight.

I debunk that claim here. The program was legal. Members of key Congressional committees were kept apprised. And the program had an astonishing number of safeguards, which appear to have been very effective.

3. Finally, the minimizers insist that this is all a cover for an attack on the liberal press. Why no anger against the Wall Street Journal?! they demand to know.

I address that claim here. It is not at all clear that the Journal was investigating the story for weeks, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that it was. Nevertheless, the government did not ask the Wall Street Journal not to publish. It did make that impassioned request of the New York Times and L.A. Times.

Further, editors of the West Coast Timeses have issued numerous public statements making it very clear that they had done an independent balancing of what they perceived as the competing interests — and the balance, in their (flawed and necessarily uninformed) judgment, weighed in favor of publication. The editors of the Wall Street Journal have issued no such statement.

For these reasons, the Wall Street Journal stands in a very different position — not because of the makeup of its editorial board, but because of its behavior, which was not provably irresponsible, as was that of the New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

In the future, when the unhinged left makes any of the three above arguments, I will simply refer them to this post. Feel free to do the same.

17 Responses to “Debunking the Lefties’ Arguments About the Swift Program — in One Convenient Post”

  1. […] I am getting tired of refuting this argument again and again, so I’ll simply refer you to this post of mine with links and arguments that fully debunk it. The postcard version: Drug dealers know they are sometimes monitored by officers, but somehow I think the cops would still be upset if I showed the dope dealers where the cops are stationed with their binoculars. And if a single bureaucratically worded sentence in an obscure U.N. report was enough to tip off the terrorists, then how have we caught so many of them using this program, in the many years since that little-known report was published? […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » Today’s Silly New York Times Editorial (421107)

  2. How come the Wall Street Journal isn’t coming under criticism by the administration? After all they published it as well.

    Jeff (09a52a)

  3. “Nevertheless, the government did not ask the Wall Street Journal not to publish.” – Patterico

    Pretty definitive.

    A senior deputy managing editor claimed that. And never said the paper didn’t know Treasury was at the NYTimes pleading their case for weeks – which is quite plausible. I guess if WSJ bosses never explain themselves, they get a waiver from media-loathing festishists.

    Tony Snow was equally definitive during his June 27 press briefing, “I am absolutely sure they [the terrorists] didn’t know about SWIFT.”

    “The issue is not that the stories told the terrorists we were watching financial transactions, but that the stories told them how.”

    Really. Then they distinguished SWIFT’s system from the Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center (FTAT) by looking for the big neon logo inside the bank lobby. These guys aren’t ten feet tall. Wire transfers were tracked ten ways to Sunday.

    “Members of key Congressional committees were kept apprised.”

    We may actually get to hear who and when someday. If Bill Frist says he knew from the get-go, why should we doubt it?

    steve (db6ba8)

  4. I address that claim here. It is not at all clear that the Journal was investigating the story for weeks, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that it was. Nevertheless, the government did not ask the Wall Street Journal not to publish. It did make that impassioned request of the New York Times and L.A. Times.

    We should also absolve SWIFT for putting on its website the fact that it cooperates with law enforcement.

    actus (6234ee)

  5. Nevertheless, the government did not ask the Wall Street Journal not to publish.

    I think it’s an undeniable fact that the government wanted the Journal to have an exclusive.

    Vladi G (117a30)

  6. Can I also mention that this argument about how the terrorists surely already knew what was going on breaks down completely in the context of the “Al Qaeda 2.0″ concept. If the gutted old core of the network is being replaced by a more loosely affiliated and less sophisticated group of operators then individual terrorist pre-knowledge of Swift becomes less likely and the program even more important to safeguard.

    Rob (b5527c)

  7. I think it’s an undeniable fact that the government wanted the Journal to have an exclusive.

    Also, nothing worrysome about levelling our opprobrium at the press on the basis of whether they did or did not do as ordered by the government.

    If the gutted old core of the network is being replaced by a more loosely affiliated and less sophisticated group of operators then individual terrorist pre-knowledge of Swift becomes less likely and the program even more important to safeguard.

    I don’t understand why knowledge of SWIFT is so important for terrorists. What are they going to do? Find a bank outside the swift consortium? Because the NYT or the WSJ hasn’t reported on those? And that means we’re not using the same subpeona rules or interpretations of privacy policy on those?

    actus (6234ee)

  8. you’ve never ehad of the first amendment?

    it prohibits the U.S. Congress from infringing on six rights. It forbids federal laws that:

    * Respect an establishment of religion (the “Establishment Clause”);
    * Prohibit free exercise of religion (the “Free Exercise Clause”);
    * Infringe the freedom of speech;
    * Infringe the freedom of the press;
    * Limit the right to assemble peaceably;
    * Limit the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

    and to think that you’re a lawyer. stop defending the globalists. you are not one of the elite, and you’re fooling yourself if you think you are.

    if we don’t criticize our govt’s actions, who will? if we don’t know who is doing what, then how are we to critcize our govt’s actions? it wouldn’t be a democracy if these things didn’t come into play.

    casek (97bf24)

  9. Most Wanted…

    George Bush gets to strike the righteous pose again when he declares,”There can be no excuse for anyone entrusted with vital intelligence to leak it — and no excuse for any newspaper to print it.”
    George Bush should look in the mirror. …

    The Heretik (4f7863)

  10. […] So Bush blabbed and blabbed and blabbed. Why should he not be accused of a certain hypocrisy and um lying by omitting what he has said? His representatives have too. Certain defenders of George Bush pontificate: “This is not the point, as I explained here. The issue is not that the stories told the terrorists we were watching financial transactions, but that the stories told them how.” […]

    The Heretik » 2006 » June » 29 (80c71a)

  11. Casek: 1) I don’t see where Patterico is calling for prosecution, so your comment is a non sequitir. The first amendment does not protect you from criticism. If it did, someone else’s rights would necessarily be infringed upon.

    2) As far as an absolute first amendment right which you appear to be asserting, try yelling fire in a theater and see if any law enforcement personnel infringe on your freedom of speech. Or try organizing a protest within 100 yards of a Presidential visit.

    Or more generally, there’s several first amendment exceptions. Just with freedom of speech and off the top of my head, here’s five: 1) Libel/slander. 2) Copyright infringement. 3) Contract infringement. 4) Endangering lives (e.g., inciting to violence,). 5) Lying under oath / to a federal official.

    And depending on how the AIPAC case goes, disclosing classified information even if you don’t have a clearance (disclosing while having a clearance would be an example of #3.) will be another exception. And depending on your reading of the Espionage Act, it is now.

    Jody (a0b995)

  12. No refutation of the UN documents that already mentioned the SWIFT program monitoring?

    No mention of the Boston Globe reports?

    hmmm, suspect.

    [Suspect only to someone whose partisanship interferes with their reasoning powers and ability to click on the links. The silly U.N. report argument is demolished in one of posts you failed to click on. The Boston Globe? I don’t even know what your argument is, since you failed to make one. (Hmmm . . . Suspect!) If your argument is that the Globe published too, then click on the link for the WSJ entry and make your argument that the Globe is different. If you can. — P]

    left-coaster (48ee7c)

  13. The traditional method of acquiring information from the SWIFT organization was to issue a subpoena, hope that SWIFT would respond, and hope that the information they decided to give would be useful. But SWIFT gave the US the entire database – far more information with far more freedom to use it than they would normally have been given access to. And nobody knew this.

    From the SF Chronicle (6/24/06):

    In response to the Sept. 11 attacks, the Treasury Department sought to enlist a reluctant ally. The world’s banking industry long had been loath to give up data on its customers, so U.S. investigators issued a subpoena for just a narrow slice of information from a worldwide financial consortium.

    The reply stunned Treasury officials.

    The consortium couldn’t extract the shards of data that U.S. terrorism analysts were looking for, so it offered something far more generous.

    “They said, ‘We’ll give you all the data,’ ” Treasury Secretary John Snow said Friday during a news conference in which he defended the espionage program.

    And just like that, intelligence teams that once had to scrape for scraps of data from individual banks were given keys to the international banking kingdom — access to a vast database that contains detailed records on billions of bank-to-bank money transfers around the world.

    The extent of our access was a surprise to US and European officials – why wouldn’t it have been a surprise to terrorists as well?

    geoff (9c1c8d)

  14. Were terrorists really too smart to use the SWIFT system? From Australia’s The Age (6/29/06):

    Current and former US officials said the SWIFT effort had only been marginally successful against al-Qaeda, which long ago began transferring money through other means, including the highly informal banking system common in Islamic countries. The value of the program, they said, had been in tracking lower and mid-level terrorist operatives and financiers who believe they have not been detected, and militant groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, that also operate political and welfare organisations.

    Those who say that terrorists already knew about the financial monitoring should pay heed.

    geoff (9c1c8d)


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