New York Times Publishes Classified Details of Legal and (Formerly) Effective Anti-Terrorism Program (UPDATE: So Does LAT)
The New York Times has a lengthy article revealing classified details about an anti-terrorist program that has, among other things, caught the mastermind of the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing. The publication of the article may spell the end of the program. (H/t Allah.)
I am biting down on my rage right now. I’ll resist the temptation to say Ann Coulter was right about where Timothy McVeigh should have gone with his truck bomb. I’ll say only this: it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that the people at the New York Times are not just biased media folks whose antics can be laughed off. They are actually dangerous.
[UPDATE: I have learned (again from Allah) that the L.A. Times has published basically the exact same article. See UPDATE below.]
More details in the extended entry.
The article says:
The program is limited, government officials say, to tracing transactions of people suspected of ties to Al Qaeda by reviewing records from the nerve center of the global banking industry, a Belgian cooperative [named Swift] that routes about $6 trillion daily between banks, brokerages, stock exchanges and other institutions. The records mostly involve wire transfers and other methods of moving money overseas or into and out of the United States. Most routine financial transactions confined to this country are not in the database.
Until Eric Lichtblau, James Risen, and Bill Keller decided, in their infinite wisdom, that the program was too much of a concern to allow to continue, it had some extraordinary successes:
Among the [program’s] successes was the capture of a Qaeda operative, Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, believed to be the mastermind of the 2002 bombing of a Bali resort, several officials said. The Swift data identified a previously unknown figure in Southeast Asia who had financial dealings with a person suspected of being a member of Al Qaeda; that link helped locate Hambali in Thailand in 2003, they said.
In the United States, the program has provided financial data in investigations into possible domestic terrorist cells as well as inquiries of Islamic charities with suspected of having links to extremists, the officials said.
The data also helped identify a Brooklyn man who was convicted on terrorism-related charges last year, the officials said. The man, Uzair Paracha, who worked at a New York import business, aided a Qaeda operative in Pakistan by agreeing to launder $200,000 through a Karachi bank, prosecutors said.
The obvious critical importance of the program doesn’t appear to have weighed very heavily in the balance, despite entreaties from numerous government officials. As the article itself explains:
The Bush administration has made no secret of its campaign to disrupt terrorist financing, and President Bush, Treasury officials and others have spoken publicly about those efforts. Administration officials, however, asked The New York Times not to publish this article, saying that disclosure of the Swift program could jeopardize its effectiveness. They also enlisted several current and former officials, both Democrat and Republican, to vouch for its value.
Bill Keller, the newspaper’s executive editor, said: “We have listened closely to the administration’s arguments for withholding this information, and given them the most serious and respectful consideration. We remain convinced that the administration’s extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial data, however carefully targeted use of it may be, is a matter of public interest.”
The article is likely to do far more than “jeopardize [the program’s] effectiveness.” It’s clear to me that the publication of the article will shut it down entirely. The article says that, in 2003, officials of the banking cooperative “were discussing pulling out because of their concerns about legal and financial risks if the program were revealed, one government official said.” But our top officials did a “full-court press” and promised to institute even tighter controls, which had apparently been quite successful.
Now that the program has been splashed all over the pages of the New York Times, I think that Swift’s era of cooperation with the U.S. Government is over.
What exactly is in the public interest about revealing classified information that has been successful in tracking and apprehending murderous terrorists?
Is it that the program is illegal? Well, nobody really says that. To the contrary, Treasury officials “said they considered the government’s authority to subpoena the Swift records to be clear.” There was initially a debate about the program’s legality, but Treasury and Justice Department lawyers ultimately concluded that it was legal.
So what’s the problem? Well, despite the program’s apparent legality, it apparently made a few people . . . uncomfortable!
The article says that the program “stirred concerns inside the administration about legal and privacy issues.” Some officials interviewed by the Times “expressed reservations about the program” because it had not been authorized by Congress. A banking privacy expert says that, at a minimum, the program seems “inappropriate.” And:
Several people familiar with the Swift program said they believed they were exploiting a “gray area” in the law and that a case could be made for restricting the government’s access to the records on Fourth Amendment and statutory grounds. They also worried about the impact on Swift if the program were disclosed.
“There was always concern about this program,” a former official said.
So: there were concerns. Some people expressed reservations. Others thought it was inappropriate. Others thought that they were exploiting a gray area.
(And, don’t forget, we have no idea how many of these people are Mary McCarthy-style Democrat partisans whose main “concern” might be voting Republicans out of office.)
And this is justification for revealing (and probably killing) a classified program that has caught mass murderers?
Stephen Spruiell says it best:
Keller and his team really do believe they are above the law. When it comes to national security, it isn’t the government that should decide when secrecy is essential to a program’s effectiveness. It is the New York Times.
National security be damned. There are Pulitzers to be won.
As I said, these people are dangerous. I think it’s time to open an investigation into these leaks. Our war on terror is being eviscerated by the New York Times, in cooperation with shadowy figures inside the government with mysterious agendas that lead them to disclose highly sensitive information regarding legal programs that have proven critical to our efforts to stop the killing of innocents.
Heads need to roll over this.
UPDATE: Allah informs me that the L.A. Times has also published an article about the same program. Dean Baquet’s statement sounds a lot like Bill Keller’s:
Bush administration officials asked the Times not to publish information about the program, contending that disclosure could damage its effectiveness and that sufficient safeguards are in place to protect the public.
Dean Baquet, the editor of the Times, said: “We weighed the government’s arguments carefully, but in the end we determined that it was in the public interest to publish information about the extraordinary reach of this program. It is part of the continuing national debate over the aggressive measures employed by the government.”
So Spruiell is wrong to say:
When it comes to national security, it isn’t the government that should decide when secrecy is essential to a program’s effectiveness. It is the New York Times.
He forgot: and/or the Los Angeles Times.
These people are in a race to undermine our national security.
Get an independent prosecutor. Now.
UPDATE x3: A commenter says the WSJ also ran with the story today. It’s subscription only so I can’t link it, but it’s described here. This link also has a quote from L.A. Times Washington Bureau chief Doyle McManus on how desperate the government was to keep the program secret:
“It’s a tough call; it was not a decision made lightly,” said Doyle McManus, the Los Angeles Times’ Washington bureau chief. “The key issue here is whether the government has shown that there are adequate safeguards in these programs to give American citizens confidence that information that should remain private is being protected.”
Treasury Department officials spent 90 minutes Thursday meeting with the newspaper’s reporters, stressing the legality of the program and urging the paper to not publish a story on the program, McManus said in a telephone interview.
“They were quite vigorous, they were quite energetic. They made a very strong case,” he said.
But not strong enough for Emperors McManus and Baquet. They did all the weighing necessary, and made the determination that you need to know. More on the outrageous nature of all of this here.