The dynamic duo of Eric Lichtblau and James Risen are at it again with their exposure of a classified program used to track the banking practices of people associated with al Qaeda.
Under a secret Bush administration program initiated weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, counterterrorism officials have gained access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the United States, according to government and industry officials.
Well, it's not secret anymore.
The program is limited, government officials say, to tracing transactions of people suspected of ties to Al Qaeda by reviewing records from the nerve center of the global banking industry, a Belgian cooperative that routes about $6 trillion daily between banks, brokerages, stock exchanges and other institutions. The records mostly involve wire transfers and other methods of moving money overseas or into and out of the United States. Most routine financial transactions confined to this country are not in the database.
So, what's the problem? Why is the New York Times publishing this information if virtually all the banking transactions that are being traced are overseas with no real effect to Americans? This question becomes even more important when we learn that the White House asked the New York Times to refrain from publishing this article because it could make the program less effective. Here's the Times' editor's response:
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."
Which public interest is Mr. Keller looking out for? The American public at large isn't affected. Besides, the American public has expressed support over and over again for programs like this one that track the activities of would-be terrorists intent on harming us. The only public affected is the terrorist kind. Would be terrorits are the direct beneficiaries of this kind of article.
Take a look at the terror suspects this formerly secret program has netted:
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.
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.
Because the New York Times published the details of the US government's effective terrorist tracking program, al Qaeda operatives now have more opportunity to avoid being caught.
Michelle Malkin is similarly disgusted with the games the NY Times is playing with our national security.
How odd that most Americans think sleeper cells and buried WMDs in Iraq present more of a threat than the Administration's surveillance of the banking activities of terrorists.
Alexandra Von Maltzan at Newsbusters:
What exactly constitutes "Government secrets" nowadays. Absolutely everything is out in the open, I have no idea how any covert operations or classified programs can be carried out anymore. With the likes of the NYT and the L.A. Times revealing to all and sundry classified information, the terrorists don't need any help from their own, when they are getting plenty directly from us.
Tracking the finances of terrorist organizations is one of THE best tools we have to cut at the roots of terror. The NY Times doesn't care. After specifically being asked not to release this information by our government because it might jeapordize its effectiveness. The NY Times doesn't care how it effects National Security, they are leaking it to the public. Classified information? What's that? We are in a transparent nation.
Keller has it out for the Bush administration and wants to salvage his sinking revenues. There is no reason to expose this because very few Americans have international bank dealings. And if they did, I am sure they would not mind someone scrutinizing the overseas entity.
The LA Times is also jumping on the destroy-America's-national-security-capability bandwagon:
The U.S. government, without the knowledge of many banks and their customers, has engaged for years in a secret effort to track terrorist financing by accessing a vast database of confidential information on transfers of money between banks worldwide.
The program, run by the Treasury Department, is considered a potent weapon in the war on terrorism because of its ability to clandestinely monitor financial transactions and map terrorist webs.
Update: Let's flashback to Gabriel Schoenfeld's important piece from the March edition of Commentary Magazine in which he argued that the New York Times was violating the Espionage Act with its article that exposed the NSA's terrorist surveillance program. This is what Mr. Schoenfeld said about the New York Times' publication of the NSA program:
The Justice Department has already initiated a criminal investigation into the leak of the NSA program, focusing on which government employees may have broken the law. But the government is contending with hundreds of national-security leaks, and progress is uncertain at best. The real question that an intrepid prosecutor in the Justice Department should be asking is whether, in the aftermath of September 11, we as a nation can afford to permit the reporters and editors of a great newspaper to become the unelected authority that determines for all of us what is a legitimate secret and what is not. Like the Constitution itself, the First Amendment's protections of freedom of the press are not a suicide pact. The laws governing what the Times has done are perfectly clear; will they be enforced?
Good question. Will they be enforced with the Times' and the other media outlets' exposure of this classified national security program?
A conservative magazine editor who is one of the leading advocates of prosecuting the Times for its December story, Gabriel Schoenfeld, told The New York Sun last night that the newspaper's latest move could increase their legal jeopardy.
"They're courting prosecution. ... They're increasingly behaving like if we were in the middle of World War II and they learned of plans to invade Normandy. Because they decided it's a matter of public interest, they'd publish it," Mr. Schoenfeld said. "I think this is reckless and likely to encourage Attorney General Gonzales to prosecute them, if not for this story, for some of the other things they've done."
Read the rest of the Sun's article.
Update III: Ed Morrissey is spot on with this:
Did no one read that and understand that the US has an extensive surveillance system on financial transactions around the world? Perhaps Keller, Lichtblau, and Risen need facts spelled out for them using crayon and words of two syllables and less, but the thinking world already understood that American intelligence had thoroughly penetrated global finance -- exactly like we said we would do in the wake of 9/11.
This story is only good for one thing, and that is an attempt to blow the program and stop our ability to follow the money. The New York Times apparently wants to stage itself as a publication written by traitors for an audience of idiots.