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July 13, 2006

NY Times Watch: SWIFTLY Sinking The Ship of State

It is a Very Bad Sign for NY Time Editor Bill Keller when even his own side start jumping ship. Slate's Jacob Weisberg weighs in:

... let me depart from the liberal consensus and argue that the New York Times, while acting in good faith, made the wrong call by printing the SWIFT story. Editors there and at the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal who also had pieces of the scoop should have waited to publish it, at least until they could be more certain that the snooping program was no longer useful.

Later on, however, he argues:

Because the story fails to clear the public-interest hurdle easily, the issue becomes: Is the alleged harm genuine? Here, too, there is room for disagreement. Treasury officials point to terrorists caught with the help of SWIFT data, including Hambali, who was behind the Bali bombing. There is no evidence to contradict their assertion that the program continued to be useful in tracking other terrorists. Presumably, members of al Qaida have long assumed that bank transfers, like phone calls, can be traced by authorities. But not all terrorists are diabolical masterminds. Like conventional criminals, many are simply stupid and violent (and incompetent). Yet it's hard to imagine any terrorist brainless enough to continue moving money through banks internationally now that he knows for certain that all such transactions are transparent to the CIA.

...In fairness to the Times, administration officials who tried to talk editors there out of publishing seem to have emphasized a much weaker argument for withholding the SWIFT story—that disclosure would put pressure on European governments to oppose the program. It's hardly a valid national security argument to say that the public in other democratic countries might reflexively oppose something if they knew we were doing it. That's a diplomatic problem of Bush's own making, and he can't reasonably enlist the press in trying to solve it. In any case, that concern hasn't been borne out. Few in Europe seem alarmed by, or even much interested in, the SWIFT disclosures. The stronger point is simply that we shouldn't tip our hand to people trying to kill us.

Actually, that's not a weak argument at all. Privacy International has filed suit in 32 nations to block cooperation with SWIFT. This is a direct result of the NY Times' disclosure of a classified program.

And then there's this:

Since being asked to oversee this program by then-Secretary Snow and then-Deputy Secretary Bodman almost two years ago, I have received the written output from this program as part of my daily intelligence briefing. For two years, I have been reviewing that output every morning. I cannot remember a day when that briefing did not include at least one terrorism lead from this program. Despite attempts at secrecy, terrorist facilitators have continued to use the international banking system to send money to one another, even after September 11th. This disclosure compromised one of our most valuable programs and will only make our efforts to track terrorist financing --and to prevent terrorist attacks-- harder. Tracking terrorist money trails is difficult enough without having our sources and methods reported on the front page newspapers. (emphasis added)



It simply does not get any plainer than that.

But then I believe, and right now I simply do not have time to look up the post, that I linked this little document a long time ago:

The US press is an open vault of classified information on US intelligence collection sources and methods. This has been true for years. But the problem is worse now than ever before, given the scope and seriousness of leaks coupled with the power of electronic dissemination and search engines. The principal sources of intelligence information for US newspapers, magazines, television, books, and the Internet are unauthorized disclosures of classified information. Press leaks reveal, individually and cumulatively, much about how secret intelligence works. And, by implication, how to defeat it.

This significant issue—the unauthorized disclosure of classified intelligence—has been extraordinarily resistant to correctives. It will never be solved without a frontal assault on many levels, and an essential one is US law. This article addresses key legal issues in gaining better control over unauthorized disclosures that appear in the press. It advocates a range of legal solutions that have not been tried before, some of which are controversial. The views expressed here are my own.

Read it. And ask yourself what in the hell happened to the CIA.

Because once upon a time, they were interested in keeping secrets.

Posted by Cassandra at July 13, 2006 08:58 AM


What gets me through all of this is the double standard the media has on all of this. Why does the press (NYTimes, LATimes, etc) feel it is okay to publish this information, but publishing information on Valerie Plame's role in Wilson's "fact finding" trip is not? Are they not the same thing?

Posted by: Gambit at July 13, 2006 12:29 PM

Not content with just continuing its highest and best use, which is training puppies to piddle and poo properly, the New York Times now demonstrates an uncanny ability to poop all over itself.

Please go here for more:
Strong As An Ox And Nearly As Smart

Posted by: Major Mike at July 13, 2006 01:32 PM

"-emphasized a much weaker argument for withholding the SWIFT story—that disclosure would put pressure on European governments to oppose the program."

So, the Times' argument is that the girl didn't exactly say, "No!" in a convincing manner?

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at July 13, 2006 06:29 PM

I really wish I'd had more time this week to write. I've just been phenomenally busy at work.

I noticed that too - good catch. There were a few whoppers in there but I didn't have time to go after them all. But all in all, he was pretty fair.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 13, 2006 06:37 PM

Personally, I can't wait until the "gray lady" dies...

Posted by: camojack at July 14, 2006 01:19 AM

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