In today’s New York Times story by Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, the Times blows the classified program that seeks to trace al Qaeda-related bank transactions:
Viewed by the Bush administration as a vital tool, the program has played a hidden role in domestic and foreign terrorism investigations since 2001 and helped in the capture of the most wanted Qaeda figure in Southeast Asia, the officials said. The program, run out of the Central Intelligence Agency and overseen by the Treasury Department, “has provided us with a unique and powerful window into the operations of terrorist networks and is, without doubt, a legal and proper use of our authorities,” Stuart Levey, an undersecretary at the Treasury Department, said in an interview Thursday. The program is grounded in part on the president’s emergency economic powers, Mr. Levey said, and multiple safeguards have been imposed to protect against any unwarranted searches of Americans’ records.
Eric Lichtblau gives a video presentation of the story here.
This paragraph in the Lichtblau-Risen story has a familiar ring:
Nearly 20 current and former government officials and industry executives discussed aspects of the Swift operation with The New York Times on condition of anonymity because the program remains classified. Some of those officials expressed reservations about the program, saying that what they viewed as an urgent, temporary measure had become permanent nearly five years later without specific Congressional approval or formal authorization.
The story strikes another familiar refrain courtesy of Times executive editor Bill Keller:
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.”
I sincerely regret my vote for Bill Keller for president, but there you have it. You also have this:
While the banking program is a closely held secret, administration officials have conducted classified briefings to some members of Congress and the Sept. 11 Commission, the officials said. More lawmakers were briefed in recent weeks, after the administration learned The Times was making inquiries for this article. Swift’s 25-member board of directors, made up of representatives from financial institutions around the world, was previously told of the program, but it is not clear if other participants know that American intelligence officials can examine their message traffic.
You don’t think the Times would blow a program that has actually led to the apprehension of terrorists abroad and at home? Think again:
Among the 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.
For my attempt to address the legal issues related to the Times’s conduct, see the Standard column “Exposure,” and for Gabriel Schoenfeld’s, see his Commentary article “Has the New York Times violated the Espionage Act?” It is unfortunately past time for the Bush administration to enforce the laws of the United States against the New York Times. The Times and its likeminded media colleagues will undoubtedly continue to undermine and betray the national security of the United States until they are taught that they are subject to the same laws that govern the conduct of ordinary citizens, or until an enraged citizenry decides, like Bill Keller, to take the law into its own hands and express its disagreement some other way.
According to this AP story, the Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times all posted versions of the story yesterday. The Bush administration then responded with this statement:
“Since immediately following 9-11, the American government has taken every legal measure to prevent another attack on our country,” Dana Perino, deputy White House press secretary, said Thursday evening. “One of the most important tools in the fight against terror is our ability to choke off funds for the terrorists.”
JOHN adds: Meanwhile, former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ronald N. Montaperto pled guilty yesterday to passing classified information to China. He will shortly be sentenced to prison. But the New York Times has repeatedly fed far more vital and more secret information to al Qaeda. We are not at war with China. We are at war with al Qaeda. I understand why Monaperto is going to jail. I do not understand why the dozens of CIA and New York Times employees who have peristently leaked classified information to al Qaeda are, apparently, not going to jail.