Everyone following the controversy over the recently disclosed anti-terror program needs to understand the way that the L.A. Times has distorted basic facts of the story. The distortions make the program sound both more menacing and less effective than it actually is.
For example, today’s article says:
In a major departure from traditional methods of obtaining financial records, the Treasury Department uses a little-known power — administrative subpoenas — to collect data from the SWIFT network, which has operations in the U.S., including a main computer hub in Manassas, Va.
Let’s compare the paper’s assertion of how “little-known” administrative subpoenas are to the 2004 testimony of Rachel Brand, Principal Deputy Attorney General of the United States:
Administrative subpoenas are a well-established investigative tool, currently available in a wide range of civil and criminal investigations. A 2002 study by the Office of Legal Policy identified approximately 335 administrative subpoena authorities existing in current law.
But what does the Principal Deputy Attorney General of the United States know about criminal procedures? The Los Angeles Times says these subpoenas are a “little-known power.”
The paper also says:
The subpoenas are secret and not reviewed by judges or grand juries, as are most criminal subpoenas.
Really? They are? That’s news to me!
My office issues subpoenas every day — hundreds of them. People appear in court pursuant to them. Police deliver records pursuant to them. We subpoena cellular phone records, hospital records, and all sorts of other records with them, all the time — and judges almost never look at them. The subpoenaed parties simply comply.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys reading this blog, feel free to chime in. Tell me if I’m wrong.
I’d be fascinated to know the source of these reporters’ contention that “most criminal subpoenas” are “reviewed by judges or grand juries.” I have a hunch that the source is “the reporter’s ass.”
Finally, as I told you before, the paper does not give a full picture of the successes of the program. The New York Times and Washington Post managed to find officials who would disclose specific successes of the program, including confirming the identity of a major Iraqi terror facilitator, and the capture of the mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombing, which killed 202 people. Yet the Los Angeles Times says:
Current and former U.S. officials familiar with the SWIFT program described it as one of the most valuable weapons in the financial war on terrorism, but declined to provide even anecdotal evidence of its successes.
(False) implication: the program really isn’t all that important.
All of these distortions mesh to make the program seem less important and more threatening than it really is.
I just want to make sure you recognize what the paper is doing, and why.