Patterico's Pontifications


The Swift Counterterror Program Was Effective, Because Terrorists Aren’t All-Knowing Supermen

Filed under: Dog Trainer,Scum,Terrorism — Patterico @ 11:01 pm

One of the arguments made by people desperate to undermine the significance of the bank tracking program disclosures is the claim that the terrorists must have known about this already. Even some who aren’t determined minimizers have fallen for this argument. For example, Roger L. Simon recently said: “Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I assumed that such things were monitored in the post 9-11 era.”

Well, I don’t know about Roger L. Simon, but I never heard of the Swift consortium until June 22, when the stories first broke online. I bet the same is true of you. I think Roger and I assumed that financial transactions were monitored. But we didn’t know how.

Hugh Hewitt made a great analogy today in his interview with L.A. Times Washington Bureau Chief Doyle McManus:

Is there a difference between knowing, Doyle McManus, that, say, a city is looking for speeders, and knowing that they’ve installed a camera at a particular intersection?

Yes. Yes, there is. When you know where the traffic cameras are located, you just might drive down a different street. Especially when the stakes are high.

Similarly, there’s a difference between knowing that a government is trying to monitor financial transactions, and knowing how they’re doing it.

Many financial institutions participate in the Swift consortium. But not all do. The wise terrorist, opening his terrorism handbook (i.e. the home page of the New York Times), will carefully note which financial institutions participate, and use other ones.

Or perhaps the terrorist will find it useful to know exactly what information is available through Swift records — or that (as the New York Times carefully explained) “the information is not provided in real time – Swift generally turns it over several weeks later.”

“Mohammed, make sure the attack is carried out within two weeks of receipt of the funds. Yes, I know we originally planned it for later. Plans have changed. Don’t you read the New York Times?”

The minimizers say: ah, but the precise methods were already public! They point to this post from the Counterterrorism Blog, which says:

[R]eports on US monitoring of SWIFT transactions have been out there for some time. The information was fairly well known by terrorism financing experts back in 2002. The UN Al Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Group, on which I served as the terrorism financing expert, learned of the practice during the course of our monitoring inquiries. The information was incorporated in our report to the UN Security Council in December 2002. That report is still available on the UN Website.

But there is a significant difference between information being “out there,” as in “available in a single bureaucratically worded paragraph in an obscure U.N. report,” and between being “out there,” as in splashed all over the front pages of the New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

But ultimately, the key issue isn’t whether I knew about Swift, or whether Roger L. Simon knew about Swift, or even whether you knew about Swift. The question is whether the terrorists knew about Swift.

And we don’t have to speculate about this. The undeniable fact is that they didn’t all know.

I hate to keep getting back to the facts, but sometimes it seems necessary. So, let’s reprise. The program’s most salient success was the capture of Hambali, the mastermind of the deadly 2002 Bali bombing. Counterterrorism Blog says the Swift information was “out there” in an obscure U.N. report in December 2002. So Hambali must have been captured before then, right?

Nope. Hambali was arrested on August 12, 2003.

But surely the program’s successes end there, correct?

Again, back to the pesky facts. The Wall Street Journal article (no link available) tells us another success story resulting from the program:

People familiar with the program said, for example, that it yielded useful information on the bombings last July 7 in London.

Last July 7? As in July 7, 2005?

Impossible! The terrorists must have known about Swift by then! How could they have failed to scrutinize paragraph 31 of the UN Al Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Group’s report to the UN Security Council in December 2002?

The bottom line, folks, is that terrorists are not all supermen. Yes, many of them are quite sophisticated. Many are adept at using the Internet. I am willing to wager that plenty of Al Qaeda terrorists actively scour the Web for scraps of information relating to our government’s efforts to track and monitor them.

But you know what? Evidently they didn’t all get the message.

But I guarantee you they got it this time.

Thank you again, Bill Keller and Dean Baquet.

UPDATE: From John Snow’s letter today to Bill Keller:

You have defended your decision to compromise this program by asserting that “terror financiers know” our methods for tracking their funds and have already moved to other methods to send money. The fact that your editors believe themselves to be qualified to assess how terrorists are moving money betrays a breathtaking arrogance and a deep misunderstanding of this program and how it works. While terrorists are relying more heavily than before on cumbersome methods to move money, such as cash couriers, we have continued to see them using the formal financial system, which has made this particular program incredibly valuable.

But forget you read that. After all, Bill Keller knows far more about how the terrorists move their money than do John Snow and the President of the United States! He’s Bill Freaking Keller! He goes to cocktail parties in the Hamptons! He’s the editor of the freaking New York Times! It’s the closest thing to God himself on the planet! The power that has been given him is not something to be taken lightly!

Kids need fairy tales to sleep, and I imagine that these days, Bill Keller, Dean Baquet, and their defenders probably sleep better thinking that this program wasn’t effective anyway. The facts say otherwise — but since when do facts matter when you’re determined to believe in a fairy tale?

Blogosphere Excels in Reaction to Keller Letter

Filed under: Blogging Matters,Media Bias,Terrorism — Patterico @ 6:27 pm

The blogosphere did a bang-up job today reacting to Bill Keller’s silly missive in defense of publishing classified details of an effective counterterrorism program. Rarely have I been prouder to be associated with such a group of clever folks — all giving world-class opinions for free!

I can’t give you every good link out there, but here are a few that caught my attention:

For those short on time, Wizbang admirably summarizes Keller’s letter:

Dear Reader:

1) We have no reason to believe the program was illegal in any way.

2) We have every reason to believe it was effective at catching terrorists.

3) We ran the story anyway, screw you.

Bill Keller

Tom Maguire wonders just whose reaction Keller values:

[J]ust what is the feedback loop here? My guess is that Keller keeps score by counting how many times he is lauded for his courage at cocktail parties in the Hamptons, but maybe it is not that scientific.

Blog posts about Keller’s letter got extra points in my estimation for mentioning the Hamptons, that symbol of rarefied elitism. iowahawk continues that trend. He has found the first draft of Keller’s letter, which opens:

With my hectic schedule of Pulitzer committees and Columbia Journalism School symposia, I don’t always have time to answer my mail as fully as etiquette demands. Lord knows I’ll be in the Audi headed to a Friday night ACLU cocktail benefit in the Hamptons when my Blackberry starts beeping and I have to pull over on the Long Island Expressway, and it turns out to be a text message from some idiot in Wistucky bitching about the last Krugman column. But our story about the government’s surveillance of international banking records has generated a few questions and concerns that I take very seriously. As the editor responsible for the difficult decision to publish that story, I’d like to offer a personal response. I’ll type v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y so you morons with questions and concerns finally understand.

Speaking of satire, See Dubya had an excellent satirical piece of his own.

But for my money, as is so often the case, some of the best expressed and most on-target sentiments came from one of my very favorite bloggers (if not my very favorite), Allahpundit, in this post. Here’s a taste:

It’s absurd to think the public should have to ratify every action the executive undertakes. They’ve already granted him a measure of trust by electing him. Keller thinks Bush squandered it, though, on bad pre-war intel and the NSA warrantless wiretaps, such that now his relationship with the public has changed from president and electorate to suspect and grand jury — with the media in the role of independent prosecutor, naturally. We’ve done some discovery, Keller’s saying, and while you may decide not to return an indictment over the SWIFT program, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see the evidence. (And if there happen to be terrorists on the grand jury, more’s the pity.)

His concept of the media’s relationship with the administration is thus explicitly adversarial. He even hints at a boxing metaphor in his letter, describing the press and the government as proceeding “from opposite corners.” Imagine: we’ve got two and a half years more of war to fight under Bush, and the executive editor of the New York Times is telling you he sees his job as obstructing the government even when it hasn’t done anything wrong. Dan Rather said last week that he doesn’t want reporters to practice journalism differently from the way it was practiced in Edward R. Murrow’s day. Does he really think this is how they did it during World War II?

And since when is the Times worried about preempting the electorate, anyway? They didn’t mind preempting our right to pass judgment when they refused to publish the Mohammed cartoons. Where was Independent Prosecutor Keller in that case? Hiding under his desk and dumping in his pants, that’s where.

It’s more direct, more entertaining, and more dead on target than anything you’ll read in the newspaper about this sad affair.

And Hot Air also has video of Tony Snow and the President denouncing the newspapers’ irresponsible decision.

These are terrible days for Old Media, as exemplified by Keller’s pathetic letter. But these are also great days for New Media, as exemplified by the thoughtful and funny posts quoted above.

L.A. Times Washington Bureau Chief Doyle McManus Explains Justification for Printing Classified Details of Anti-Terror Program

Filed under: Dog Trainer,Scum,Terrorism — Patterico @ 12:17 am

Want to hear more about the L.A. Times‘s rationale for publishing classified information about a successful anti-terror program? L.A. Times columnist Pattt* Morrison has a radio program on local radio station KPCC, and interviewed Times Washington Bureau Chief Doyle McManus about how the story started, and why the paper felt justified printing the story. (Hat tip to Armed Liberal.)

The bottom line is, of course, that McManus and his colleagues took it upon themselves to decide what classified information the public (and our enemies) should know about. Bizarrely, he claims that the critical factors in his decision were whether the program was legal and had adequate safeguards — even though, as I document in a related post, it was indeed legal and had extensive safeguards in place. Thus, his excuses are an apparent cover for some other motivation, as yet unrevealed.

I personally find the paper’s decision to publish these details to be appalling and reprehensible, but I applaud McManus’s willingness to discuss it publicly.

You can reach the broadcast at this page, or, more directly, you can launch the broadcast by clicking on this link. I have a partial transcript in the extended entry. I concentrate only on excerpting McManus’s statements; Morrison also interviews an “expert” whose remarks do little to illuminate the paper’s decisionmaking process, and whose remarks I have accordingly omitted from the transcript.

My remarks are interspersed throughout the transcript below. I have sent this post to Mr. McManus for his reaction, and I’ll be sure to let you know what he says, if anything.


The Legality, Safeguards, and Oversight of the Terror Financing Tracking Program

Filed under: Dog Trainer,Scum,Terrorism — Patterico @ 12:17 am

In another post published today, I print a partial transcript of an interview of Doyle McManus, Washington Bureau Chief of the Los Angeles Times, discussing the newspaper’s decision to expose classified details about an effective anti-terror program. Among the editors’ primary concerns in deciding whether to publish the story, McManus says, is whether the program was legal, whether it had adequate safeguards and controls, and whether it was subject to sufficient oversight.

The odd thing is that the articles published by the Los Angeles Times and New York Times indicate that the probable answers to all these questions was “yes” — yet the newspapers decided to publish anyway. The program was indeed determined by government lawyers to be legal, and the papers can’t find an expert to definitively contradict that position. The articles indicate that the program had extensive and effective controls in place. And the intelligence committees of both houses of Congress were fully apprised of the program.

So the program was legal, restrained, and subject to oversight.

And effective.

Which brings me back to the question: what really was the purported justification for publishing these stories?

Since I’m not sure that everyone has really read the New York Times and Los Angeles Times stories, I’d like to summarize the articles’ content concerning the issues of legality, controls, and oversight.

The full details are in the extended entry.


Bill Keller Defends the Publication of Classified Details of Anti-Terror Program

Filed under: General,Media Bias,Scum,Terrorism — Patterico @ 12:00 am

Bill Keller justifies helping the terrorists, in his typically arrogant way:

We weighed most heavily the Administration’s concern that describing this program would endanger it. The central argument we heard from officials at senior levels was that international bankers would stop cooperating, would resist, if this program saw the light of day. We don’t know what the banking consortium will do, but we found this argument puzzling. First, the bankers provide this information under the authority of a subpoena, which imposes a legal obligation. Second, if, as the Administration says, the program is legal, highly effective, and well protected against invasion of privacy, the bankers should have little trouble defending it. The Bush Administration and America itself may be unpopular in Europe these days, but policing the byways of international terror seems to have pretty strong support everywhere. And while it is too early to tell, the initial signs are that our article is not generating a banker backlash against the program.

By the way, we heard similar arguments against publishing last year’s reporting on the NSA eavesdropping program. We were told then that our article would mean the death of that program. We were told that telecommunications companies would — if the public knew what they were doing — withdraw their cooperation. To the best of my knowledge, that has not happened. While our coverage has led to much public debate and new congressional oversight, to the best of our knowledge the eavesdropping program continues to operate much as it did before. Members of Congress have proposed to amend the law to put the eavesdropping program on a firm legal footing. And the man who presided over it and defended it was handily confirmed for promotion as the head of the CIA.

I just have one thing to say.

Bill, it’s a good thing the terrorists have no idea what is printed on the front page of the New York Times.

Otherwise, you would have screwed things up royally.

Love and kisses,


P.S. Hugh Hewitt and See Dubya have more.

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