Loose Lips Sink Ships – You NYT Twits

While driving on my recent vacation, I happened upon an NPR program that dealt with the topic of the New York Times’ latest violation of national security, revelation of information valuable to our enemies, willingness to endanger us all to sell some newspapers, unreasoning hatred of the current president, public service in exposing the Evil Bush Administration.

I had never heard The Diane Rehm Show before, and I paused the scan on my radio because the guests included Eleanor Clift and Tony Blankley. I enjoy it when Ms Clift’s presumptions are challenged. Also, I was intrigued by the host’s speech patterns.

The context: the Bush administration had been presenting a case to the Washington Post, LA Times and Wall Street Journal against publication of certain secret information. These discussions were rendered moot by the New York Times – which published the story despite similar representations from the government. NYT registration required.

On NPR, Eleanor Clift’s first concern was that the NYT had violated some code of proper behavior (I cannot go so far as to say “ethics”) among newspapers by publishing while their peers were still contemplating arguments about possible damage to national security. She was secondarily concerned about national security, per se. The phrase “Honor among thieves” leapt readily to mind.

The story in question was about examination by United States security agents of a Belgian database of financial transfer messages. An examination conducted in compliance with US and EU law and with the co-operation of the private enterprise involved. This was a secret method of an announced policy to track the financing of terror. In the Time’s own description:

The Bush administration has made no secret of its campaign to disrupt terrorist financing, and President Bush, Treasury officials and others have spoken publicly about those efforts. Administration officials, however, asked The New York Times not to publish this article, saying that disclosure of the Swift program could jeopardize its effectiveness.


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.”

The “public” with the greatest “interest”, of course, consists primarily of Al-Qaeda sympathizers, Iraqi Baathists, Saudi madrassa financiers, Iranian madmen and Senate Democrats.

The Times has revealed details of how the United States had been able to track transfers of money between and among terrorist organizations. It is little wonder the Times’ sources prefer anonymity.

What is wrong with the Times’ story is neatly encapsulated in the story itself. See if you can add your own emphasis to the following:

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.

There is, of course, more than one definition of “public interest”. One might be national security. Another might be selling more of “the newspaper of record”, especially where it furthers the war against the war on terror. Apparently, there are also several definitions of “classified.”

The Times acknowledges that the program is was useful:

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.

In the United States, the program has provided financial data in investigations into possible domestic terrorist cells as well as inquiries of Islamic charities with suspected of having links to extremists, the officials 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.

…Like other counterterrorism measures carried out by the Bush administration, the Swift program began in the hectic days after the Sept. 11 attacks, as officials scrambled to identify new tools to head off further strikes.

One priority was to cut off the flow of money to Al Qaeda. The 9/11 hijackers had helped finance their plot by moving money through banks. Nine of the hijackers, for instance, funneled money from Europe and the Middle East to SunTrust bank accounts in Florida. Some of the $130,000 they received was wired by people overseas with known links to Al Qaeda.

There is a better explanation of the SWIFT program than you will find in the NYT here (H/T Captain’s Quarters).

To summarize. The New York Times discovered, apparently from leaks by certain officials of a government at war, the particulars of a program that said government announced it would pursue and that the Times acknowledges to be legal. The Times decided to aid and comfort publish based on “public interest.”

The interest of the public in this matter diverges from that of the New York Times. The leaks here are of the same form that had placed journalists in some jeopardy (as yet incompletely resolved) in the Valerie Plame teapot-tempest. I am open to suggestions about the common denominator, but it seems to me to be anti-Americanism.

Finally, I’d like to ask if the Times considers Internal Revenue Service access – not to your large foreign fund transfers, but to every detail of your bank accounts and salary – a similar threat to civil liberty.

I just can’t remember an NYT article about it, or an ACLU protest.