(A post by See-Dubya)
Here’s Richard Clarke and Roger Cressey in the New York Times:
Privacy rights advocates, with whom we generally agree, have lumped this bank-monitoring program with the alleged National Security Agency wiretapping of calls in which at least one party is within the United States as examples of our government violating civil liberties in the name of counterterrorism. The two programs are actually very different. Any domestic electronic surveillance without a court order, no matter how useful, is clearly illegal. Monitoring international bank transfers, especially with the knowledge of the bank consortium that owns the network, is legal and unobjectionable. … These initiatives, combined with treaties and international agreements, should leave no one with any presumption of privacy when moving money electronically between countries.
I bolded that part because it moots the argument that privacy interests were implicated by the Swift program. If there is no expectation of privacy in a transaction or communication, no warrant is necessary. It’s public knowlege. And it’s basic 4th Amendment stuff. The police can get your credit card records without a warrant, because you were willing to share them with the credit card company. The police can get a list of who you call on the phone, because you’re willing to share that information with the phone company (as opposed to tapping the content of the conversation itself, which does require a warrant.) No harm, say C&C; no foul.
C&C also speculate that President Bush’s reaction to the Timeses’ disclosure is a Rovian electoral calculation, and the value of the program is not that we catch terrorists with it, but that we make it more difficult for them to move money. C&C wonder whether “… the press [should] really be called unpatriotic by the administration, and even threatened with prosecution by politicians, for disclosing things the terrorists already assumed?” As Allahpundit points out, however, they ignore the fact that Hambali the Bali Bomber was caught because of information gathered through precisely this surveillance of his SWIFT transactions.
I am just fascinated that the Times thought running this piece was a good idea. Because it amounts to a repudiation of some the fundamental premises of James Risen and Eric Lichtblau’s original reporting.
Remember, this was supposedly a “secret” program. Hush-hush, nobody knows, classified—hence the title of R&L’s piece “Bank Data Secretly Reviewed by U.S. to Fight Terror”. They also have a caption to a picture there that says “Data provided by the program helped identify Uzair Paracha, a Brooklyn man who was convicted on terrorism-related charges in 2005, officials said.” But don’t pay attention to that right now. We’re arguing in the alternative.
Which we will continue to do below the jump… (more…)