SWIFT & the Times

Yesterday morning we received the following message from Leonard Schrank, former CEO of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT). Speaking from a position of first-hand knowledge, Mr. Schrank responds to my recent Power Line posts taking up the subject of the New York Times and its malicious treatment of highly classified national security information. I am most grateful for his permission to share these comments with Power Line readers. He writes:

As a daily reader of Power Line, I’ve been following your excellent commentary about SWIFT and the New York Times decision to reveal the SWIFT Terrorist Financial Tracking Program (TFTP) on June 23, 2006. As we said at the time, “it was legal, limited, targeted, protected, audited and overseen.” We probably negotiated the most stringent restrictions on our data going back to the days of Alexander Hamilton. It was a win/win solution that saved lives and protected data privacy. But you know all that.

About a year later I met Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. at a conference and complained he owed me for 24 Excedrin headaches. He mailed me a bottle of Bayer aspirin which I still keep on my desk. He also graciously invited me at meet with his editorial board in New York.

I tried my best to explain the program and why revealing it was a huge mistake. I even tried humor: “I grew up in Brooklyn, and we left when the Brooklyn Dodgers left in 1958—so all I had left was the New York Times. Now I’ve lost that.” They didn’t laugh.

Bottom line was clear. They so disliked President Bush and his terrorist telephone eavesdropping program which they wrote about prior to the SWIFT program. If it hadn’t been for that, they probably would not have revealed the SWIFT program. But they had “decided” that Bush was going “too far.”

A final note. Glenn Simpson, then at the Wall Street Journal, told me that he was aware of the SWIFT Program but it never even occurred to him to report on it. He simply treated it as useful background for his reporting work, but background he kept absolutely confidential. He did report on it on June 23, 2006, when the Treasury briefed him and others on it. Glenn has gone on to other things as we know, but it goes to show the difference between the Journal and the Times when it comes to national security.

Keep up the great work,

Best regards, Lenny Schrank

Leonard H. Schrank
Brussels, Belgium
CEO, SWIFT 1992-2007
Chairman, The American European Community Association