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No Such Thing as National Security When the New York Times has Papers to Sell


In today's editorial, the New York Times tries to defend itself after being roundly denounced for exposing an effective antiterror program that tracked terrorists' financial transactions. Their arguments are complete drivel.

Heather MacDonald has a piece in The Weekly Standard, which tears apart the New York Times' so called defense. Here's a portion, but be sure to read all of it.

BY NOW IT'S UNDENIABLE: The New York Times is a national security threat. So drunk is it on its own power and so antagonistic to the Bush administration that it will expose every classified antiterror program it finds out about, no matter how legal the program, how carefully crafted to safeguard civil liberties, or how vital to protecting American lives.

The Times's latest revelation of a national security secret appeared on last Friday's front page--where no al Qaeda operative could possibly miss it. Under the deliberately sensational headline, "Bank Data Sifted in Secret by U.S. to Block Terror," the Times blows the cover on a highly targeted program to locate terrorist financing networks. According to the report, since 9/11, the Bush administration has obtained information about terror suspects' international financial transactions from a Belgian clearinghouse of international money transfers.

The procedure for obtaining that information could not be more solicitous of privacy and the rule of law: Agents are only allowed to seek information based on intelligence tying specific individuals to al Qaeda; they must document the intelligence behind every search request and maintain an electronic record of every search; and, in an inspired civil liberties innovation that would undoubtedly garner kudos from the Times had a Democratic administration devised it, a board of independent auditors from banks reviews the subpoena requests to make sure that only terror suspects' transactions are traced. Any use of the data for criminal investigations into drug trafficking, say, or tax fraud is banned. The administration briefed congressional leaders and the 9/11 Commission about the system.

There is nothing about this program that exudes even a whiff of illegality. The Supreme Court has squarely held that bank records are not constitutionally protected private information. The government may obtain them without seeking a warrant from a court, because the bank depositor has already revealed his transactions to his bank--or, in the case of the present program, to a whole slew of banks that participate in the complicated international wire transfers overseen by the Belgian clearinghouse known as the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift. To get specific information about individual terror suspects, intelligence agents prepare an administrative subpoena, which is issued after extensive internal agency review. The government does not monitor a terror suspect's international wire transfers in real time; the records of his transactions are delivered weeks later. And Americans' routine financial transactions, such as ATM withdrawals or domestic banking, lie completely outside of the Swift database.

The New York Times tries very hard to argue that it is only looking out for the best interests and the privacy rights of the American people. However, as Ms. MacDonald points out, the banking transactions that the majority of Americans do every day are outside the scope of this antiterror program. Additionally, no one from the US government is accessing the Swift database and browsing around, fishing for information. The Times had to have known this at the time it published its Bush administration hit piece.

Ace of Spades doesn't mince any words in his repudiation of the NY Times and other media outlets that outed the antiterrorism operation:

The left continues to undermine national security in the most despicable, cynical way. I'm quite sure the reasonable liberals at the NYT and WaPo know full well that programs like this are absolutely vital, and their secrecy is likewise vital. However, they have made the most anti-American and evil sort of decision: While tools like this are vital for saving American lives, they will not permit any Republican President to use them. Only Democratic Presidents are permitted to employ the full panoply of powers for protecting American lives.

It's blackmail, pure and simple. Either let a Democrat into the White House, or we will continue to sabotage American security and, in effect, kill Americans. We will keep secrets when a Democrat is in office, but not a Republican. So we offer the American people a choice: Let the politicians we favor run the country, or we will help Al Qaeda murder you.

Whether or not the Times' intent is to blackmail the American public into electing a Democrat for president, it is clear that the New York Times and its left-wing media cronies intend to make the Bush administration's job of protecting the American people from terrorist attacks as difficult as possible.

And Milblogger Sergeant TF Boggs does not appreciate that. In a letter to the editor of the New York Times, which Sgt. Boggs permitted Hugh Hewitt to publish on his site, he wrote in part the following:

Your recent decision to publish information about a classified program intended to track the banking transactions of possible terrorists is not only detrimental to America but also to its fighting men and women overseas. I know because I am a sergeant in the army on my second tour to Iraq. As I am sure you don’t know because you aren’t in Iraq, and I am sure never will be, terrorism happens here everyday because there are rich men out there willing to support the everyday terrorist who plants bombs and shoots soldiers just to make a living. Without money terrorism in Iraq would die because there would no longer be supplies for IED’s, no mortars or RPG’s, and no motivation for people to abandon regular work in hopes of striking it rich after killing a soldier.

Throughout your article you mention that “ the banking program is a closely held secret” but the cat is out of the bag now isn’t it. Terrorists the world over can now change their practices because of your article. For some reason I think that last sentence will bring you guys pleasure. You have done something great in your own eyes-you think you have hurt the current administration while at the same time encouraging “freedom fighters” resisting the imperialism of the United States. However, I foresee a backlash coming your way. I wish I had a subscription to your paper so I could cancel it as soon as possible. But alas, that would prove a little tough right now since I am in Iraq dealing with terrorists financed by the very men you are helping.

Thank you for continually contributing to the deaths of my fellow soldiers. You guys definitely provide a valuable service with your paper. Why without you how would terrorists stay one step ahead of us? I would love to hear a response as to why you deemed revealing this program a necessity, but that will probably come as soon as the government decides to finally put you guys behind bars where you belong.

Right on, Sgt. Boggs.

Update: Check out the New York Times' newest disclosure of classified information. It published information from a classified Pentagon briefing about troop reductions.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference No Such Thing as National Security When the New York Times has Papers to Sell:

» Unpartisan.com Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with Qaeda No. 2: Zarqawi Was 'Hero'

» Super Fun Power Hour linked with Timetables and Leaks, Cutting and Running

» Morning Coffee linked with The Media and the War on Terror…

Comments (21)

I personally think it's rid... (Below threshold)

I personally think it's ridiculous to think that the terrorist organizations didn't already assume that we were tracking their financial operations. The New York Times has a responsibility to inform people of what the government is doing, especially if the government doesn't want them to know. They reported something that only the most ridiculously idiotic of terrorists could not have already suspected, and in the meanwhile informed other people that their own dealings might be affected as well.

I posted this in another Ne... (Below threshold)

I posted this in another New York Times thread, but it never got answered, so i'll post it here since it's a direct response to the article itself.

"That access to large amounts of sensitive data was highly unusual, several officials said, and stirred concerns inside the administration about legal and privacy issues.

While tight controls are in place, the official added, "The potential for abuse is enormous."

People on the inside have concerns, that's good...it shows they care and that they're thinking about these things.

Good to know tight controls are in place as well.

What struck me as important here is POTENTIAL. You know, the potential for the abuse of your spouse can be enormous as well, but that doesn't mean no one should get married.

I trust that they will not abuse this though, and that's where we don't see eye to eye.

"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."

Aren't we trying to concern ourselves over legality issues and here we have anonymous people leaking classified information to the press?

"Some of those officials expressed reservations about the program,

The telling statement here is "Some of those officials expressed reservations about the program". Is "some" quantified by 2 of 20, or 19 of 20? And what did the others that are not "some" have to say? Were they positive about it, and if so, what did they say? I like balanced reporting, it helps me to make informed decisions, which apparently is not the aim here.

saying that what they viewed as an urgent, temporary measure had become permanent nearly five years later without specific Congressional approval or formal authorization

Okay, that's good, it was an urgent measure, but it apparently worked so they wanted to make it permanent. So if it was urgent to begin with, did they want to make it standing in twenty years as opposed to "nearly five years later"?

I'd also like to know what the word "specific" means exactly in reference to Congressional approval.

Glaser, in more direct response to you post:

The New York Times has a responsibility to inform people of what the government is doing, especially if the government doesn't want them to know

That's a RIDICULOUS statement. The government doesn't want people to know classified information because it hurts the effectiveness of the program. If you know, the enemy knows.
If the enemy knows they can circumvent it. If they can circumvent it, more poeple will die by their hands. Is this ok with you just so you can know information that does not impact you? If it is, I'm sure there are a few U.S. soldiers that will want to "speak" with you when they get back from Iraq.

They reported something that only the most ridiculously idiotic of terrorists could not have already suspected

I told this to Lee and I'll tell it to you, and it's directly related to my last paragraph about classified information and the nature thereof: The less they know about it the better.
If you care to bargain your life, my life, and the life of others that secret information revealed to the public will not be of any use to terrorists, then you're foolhardy as well as completely irresponsible.

The NYT/LAT/WSJ all knew th... (Below threshold)

The NYT/LAT/WSJ all knew that by exposing this operation that there would be a good chance that SWIFT may stop working with the US due to management and/or political pressures.

They also were aware that should the program be halted, SWIFT becomes a *known* safe and secure method to transfer large sums of money for terrorists and their supporters.

With full knowledge that their action could and probably would help terror groups they published the story anyway.

Who in the hell is leaking ... (Below threshold)

Who in the hell is leaking to the NYT? Off with his or her head!!

If the terrorists obviously... (Below threshold)

If the terrorists obviously should have suspected this... what's everyone elses malfunction?

I mean, that's my reaction... "Of course they're tracking financial data, Duh."

But here's all these people sqwaking and running about, "Ohmygod, ohmygod, the people we hire to be sneaky spies are sneaky spies! I HAD NO IDEA!" And then the obligatory accusation, "You! Bush worshiping idiot! Where's your outrage?"

Considering the fact that the IRS knows all of my financial data *already*, including all my babies SSN#s? Yeah... outrage... I can find some. Uh, huh. Well, okay, maybe it does piss me off that I've got no privacy whatsoever and my children are marked with the number of the beast at birth... but I've had pretty much my whole life for the rage to sort of die down to a faint memory.

But then I forget... those who find this "outrage" so outrageous tend to be liberals... and they *like* taxes... so maybe they never really thought about it before.

Heralder is right, though... Even if the terrorists should logically assume they are being watched, the less they know about the specifics the better.

Kim, not only do these leak... (Below threshold)

Kim, not only do these leaks of secrets damage our national security, what the NYT and LAT are doing is damaging our working relationships with allies and neutrals. No other government is going to want to work with us if we can't keep these kinds of things from going public.

And that will not be just a problem for the current Republican president. It will be a problem for any future president, unless the Justice Department enforces our laws on the publication of classified information, now.

Put the lot of them, the government officials leaking and the newspapermen publishing, in jail, throw away the keys and let them rot in solitary confinement right next to Moussaoui. Hanging is too good for them.

Of course the terrorists "s... (Below threshold)

Of course the terrorists "should have known" we were tracking them in numerous ways - but they obviously didn't realize the extent.

When the leak in 1998 that we were listening to al Qaeda sat-phone conversations hit the press, they "should have known" that, too - but they didn't stop using the satellite phones until the info was published.

These people aren't rocket scientists or brain surgeons. They are bloodthirsty fiends devoted to a death cult.

Of course, when it is spelled out for them in the pages of the NYT or on CNN, they get it. They aren't brilliant, but they aren't completely stupid, either.

If these programs are things that everyone "should have known," WHY was it necessary to run a news story on them in the first place?

Sadly, it is a practical impossibility to bring news orgs to justice for their illegal leaks of classified info, because the discovery process of a trial would put even more sensitive info at risk of disclosure.


Could you imagine during WW... (Below threshold)

Could you imagine during WWII if a US newspaper revealed how RADAR was helping us track our enemies' movement, just because its editors disliked FDR? It would have been treasonous and unthinkable. Yet the NY Times is engaged in exactly the same behavior, aiding our enemies to try to weaken this administration.

Loose libs sink ships... (Below threshold)

Loose libs sink ships

Heralder,I'd rathe... (Below threshold)


I'd rather be in danger from terrorists than from my own government.

I'll elaborate: of course it's better if your enemy doesn't know what you're doing; that's one of my major arguments for opposing a date of withdrawal from Iraq(the other being that I'm generally in favor of a larger, more extended presence in Iraq, but that's neither here nor there). But I think it represents what's so wrong with the way this government has handled the War on Terror that they underestimate Al Qaeda and its fellow terrrorist organizations so much. It's extremely likely that these organizations have intelligence units in our own NSA, just as we have intelligence units in their organizations. Al Qaeda almost certainly knew about the program as soon as it was implemented. Even if they did not, there is no way they would have survived this long unless they were already making assumptions such as these about our policies.

On the other end, there's the effect of the government's process on ordinary Americans with no connection with Americans. The NSA's monitoring of phone call sources and and destinations eventually amounts to a giant game of six degrees of separation between every American and suspected sleeper cells. Usually it works out. When it doesn't, innocent Americans end up accused of terrorism. This practice of secretive monitoring of international transactions comes to the same thing, only it's less likely to be right. If you or I were to be linked with a terrorist by this program by accident, it could destroy our lives; even if we were eventually aquitted, we would always be suspected, and if anyone we knew happened to find out it could be devestating.

So between telling some terrorists what they already know and not knowing enough to protect myself from my overprotective government, I choose the first one.

Glaser: Name the Americans ... (Below threshold)

Glaser: Name the Americans that have been wrongly accused of terrorism due to the NSA or SWIFT programs. Also, please explain how in world the are you or I could be 'linked to a terrorist'? That is absurd and paranoid.

You made the incredible statement that it is the job of the NYT to tell the public what the government is doing. As Heralder said, that is ridiculous. If what the government is doing is so ineffective and offends your paranoid sensiblities, then tell us exactly what you would have them do that would both prevent acts of terror against Americans and not offend you. You are quick to criticize, just like many others, but tell us, and also tell the good Americans in the FBI, NSA, and other organizations on the front lines whose job it is to track and capture terrorists and prevent them from killing you and me and others. Tell them what they are doing wrong and what the should be doing instead.

Glaser: "Al Qaeda almost... (Below threshold)

Glaser: "Al Qaeda almost certainly knew about the program as soon as it was implemented. Even if they did not, there is no way they would have survived this long unless they were already making assumptions such as these about our policies."

That is pure speculation and is only slightly more plausible than if I stated that aliens from plant Bimbo also had infiltrated the NSA. You should understand that even if AQ has infiltrated the NSA, that does not mean they know everything the NSA is doing - there is a concept in security called 'need to know'. Google it.

I could just as easily state that the NSA knows they've been infiltrated and feeds the spy information they want him to disseminate to AQ. I'd be every bit as accurate as you. You can't just sit there and invent speculative scenarios and pass them off as valid reasons for doing or not doing something. That is childishly absurd.

Pulling wildly speculative scenarios out of your lower orifice and typing them into a comment thread does not work wonders for your credibility.

"So between telling terr... (Below threshold)

"So between telling terrorists what they already know and not knowing enough to protect myself from an overly protective government,i choose the first one


914, I would sure hate to b... (Below threshold)

914, I would sure hate to be a member of your family, if you have one. People like you seldom do as it is not in their self interest. So, fool. You would rather aid an enemy who is out to kill you, inspite of your help because you are an infidel and it is Gods will, that side with your elected government, which you disagree with to the point of being a traitor, that is trying to protect you and other Americans. That pretty much cover it?

ZelsdorfSorry for no... (Below threshold)

Sorry for not being clearer. I was being sarcastically critical of the ridiculous statements made by Glaser? I was trying to say thanks a lot for nothing You ingrate..

I find it extremely hard to... (Below threshold)

I find it extremely hard to even talk to people who have adopted a position of "The government can do no wrong". Nor can I have a rational debate with anyone who thinks that I'm pulling speculative scenarios out of my "lower orifice" because I assume that the people in charge of highly successful terrorist organizations must have a modicum of intelligence.

Oh, one other thing. To ass... (Below threshold)

Oh, one other thing. To assume that the government could not possibly connect me with terrorists? It isn't that hard. Practically every war the United States has fought - actually, every war the US has fought in which we were not the aggressors, has led to draconian measures of some kind which punished innocent people as much as - actually, more than - the guilty.

Glaser, I find it extremely... (Below threshold)

Glaser, I find it extremely hard to find any people who have adopted a position of "The government can do no wrong". I guess that me pretty lucky, I don't have to worry about being a snob.

"Tell them what they are do... (Below threshold)

"Tell them what they are doing wrong and what the should be doing instead."

--They should be monitoring finances. But they shouldn't hide it. Seems simple enough.

I think the NYT should repo... (Below threshold)

I think the NYT should report on this program - just not now. They should report on it either (1), when any enemy that is actually trying to kill us is dead and rotting, or (2), when they hear about the program from their good friends inside the enemy camps.

There's an advantage in us being educated about what the government is up to, to stop it from getting out of hand. The concerns about the potential might be valid, if it weren't for the fact that Canada was already doing the same thing, and it might be reasonable to tell us about them. Just not now.

Glaser :"They should be mon... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

Glaser :"They should be monitoring finances. But they shouldn't hide it. "

That doesn't even make sense.

They didn't 'hide' it, really. They've gone thru the proper channels, informed Congress what they're doing, gotten the proper Court permissions, etc..

What exactly do you mean by 'hide'? Should all the details of every government investigation be published to the general public?

Ah, well. As soon as the next Dem is elected Prez, all these front-page concerns about 'government spying' will magically fade away.

Rush is right about one thing. When the American libs are out of power, they go batshit crazy. Glaser, I don't know if 'liberal' or 'conservative' or Dem or Repub applies to you, but you are definitely on the fringe.






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