Remember the heady days of 2005 and 2006, when the New York Times and other newspapers blew the cover of one secret national security program after another? In those days, the fact that the Bush administration was doing confidential things to protect Americans against terrorist attack was deemed scandalous–by liberals, anyway.
You may recall the SWIFT program, in particular. We wrote about it here and elsewhere. The history of the New York Times’ coverage of the SWIFT program, a successful cooperation with banks to block the international flow of funds to terrorist organizations, is revealing. As we detailed in the linked post, the Times first criticized the Bush administration for not acting effectively to cut off the flow of funds to terrorist groups; then published a breathless expose of the secret SWIFT program, acknowledging along the way the program’s success; then, when public reaction wasn’t as favorable as the paper had expected, defended itself by claiming that the SWIFT program hadn’t been secret after all and “everyone”–except the Times, apparently–had already known about it.
The SWIFT program is back in the news again. The Associated Press reported today that the European Union has voted unanimously to expand its cooperation in the program:
EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Jacques Barrot said the 27-nation bloc wants to give anti-terror investigators at the U.S. Treasury access to European operation centers run by the bank transfer consortium SWIFT, expanding an existing 2007 anti-terror banking data sharing deal with Washington. To do so, it needs to negotiate under what conditions U.S. officials would have expanded access to such sensitive banking information. …
The U.S. Treasury already has access to SWIFT’s American database, but the banking consortium is setting up a new European office in Switzerland, which would focus on European clients. American investigators now want access to this new database as well.
SWIFT’s other two database centers, in the U.S. state of Virginia and in the Netherlands, handle all the consortium’s transfer orders, including those of European citizens.
“It would be extremely dangerous at this stage to stop the surveillance and the monitoring of information flows,” Barrot said, adding that the current pact, which only covers U.S. operations of SWIFT have been “an important and effective tool to fight terrorism financing and to prevent terrorist attacks.”
It’s one more instance of the Obama administration not only adopting but expanding the once-secret anti-terror tools that were developed by the Bush administration. Somehow, though, I don’t think this time around the SWIFT expansion will be the occasion for exposes or critical editorials. Nor should we hold our breath, waiting for the Times to acknowledge that it was wrong when it reported that the Bush administration had not acted effectively to stem the flow of cash to Islamic terrorists.