The media and national security

You know, I normally don’t jump on the “The media is a Fifth Column!” bandwagon. But I can’t see how disclosing the details of how the U.S. finds terrorist funding does anything but harm our efforts to prevent terrorist attacks.

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.

In terrorism prosecutions, intelligence officials have been careful to “sanitize,” or hide the origins of evidence collected through the program to keep it secret, officials said.

So the Times has just given our enemy another bit of information that they probably did not have before. Thanks so much, Bill Keller, for this:

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. They also enlisted several current and former officials, both Democrat and Republican, to vouch for its value.

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.”

Public interest. Shyeah. That’s the excuse you use. But I suspect if you polled a number of the public regarding whether or not this article should have run, the result would have been for the Times to keep quiet and let our officials do their jobs. Especially in light of the fact that no chargers of abuse of this program have been tendered. They even told the Times they’d dismissed an agent for an

Among the safeguards, government officials said, is an outside auditing firm that verifies that the data searches are based on intelligence leads about suspected terrorists. “We are not on a fishing expedition,” Mr. Levey said. “We’re not just turning on a vacuum cleaner and sucking in all the information that we can.”

[…] Because of privacy concerns and the potential for abuse, the government sought the data only for terrorism investigations and prohibited its use for tax fraud, drug trafficking or other inquiries, the officials said.

[…] Swift and Treasury officials said they were aware of no abuses. But Mr. Levey, the Treasury official, said one person had been removed from the operation for conducting a search considered inappropriate.

In other words, the safeguards employed by the government caught any potential abuse and rectified the situation. So the reason the Times chooses to divulge this secret program is…?

That’s right, I forgot. It’s in the “public interest.” It’s not to scoop other papers, win a Pulitzer prize, or bash the Administration that the Times hates so much. It’s the public interest being served. Because of course the public would trust the New York Times on matters of national security.

This matter is very different from the NSA’s phone records data mining. This involves only those suspected of terrorism, not every financial record of every American. On this matter, I stand with the government and think the Times should not have published this information.

She added: “We know the terrorists pay attention to our strategy to fight them, and now have another piece of the puzzle of how we are fighting them. We also know they adapt their methods, which increases the challenge to our intelligence and law enforcement officials.”

Way to go, Times. Of course, if a terrorist does manage to get through the net and attack Americans again, you get to blame the Bush Administration for not doing everything they can to stop the spread of terrorism. With no blame to yourselves, because your actions are in “the public interest.”

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4 Responses to The media and national security

  1. […] Because of privacy concerns and the potential for abuse, the government sought the data only for terrorism investigations and prohibited its use for tax fraud, drug trafficking or other inquiries, the officials said.

    And the reason that drug trafficking being excluded is a good thing? I would say that drug trafficking, arms deals and other things of that ilk should be included in anti-terrorism investigations.

    BTW perhaps the “request” not to publish was part of a Brer Rabbit “don’t throw me into the briar patch” ploy. They probably knew that the Times would publish it anyway. Now they have all the terrorists, drug traffickers and tax evaders looking over their shoulders and getting paranoid. After all, there is probably too much data to actually get everyone so the fear of being caught may make it even more difficult for them. I doubt that the bad guys would believe the US government is actually restricting the operation as the spokesman claims.

    It is like spreading the rumor that Al Zarqawi was turned in by a member of his own organization, whether it was true or not. That reminds me of a “mob chaser” film where the good guy is forced to turn loose a low level villain. He publicly shakes the villain’s hand and thanks him for his cooperation in front of “his” lawyer. Soon the mob is after the bad guy and he has to go running to the police for protection.

    Sabba Hillel

  2. Sounds like an eat your own dogfood moment: forcibly move the Jerusalem bureau of the New York Times to Sderot and make them take buses.

  3. Doug Purdie says:

    Well put Ms. Yourish. I saw the same story covered by Captain Ed, who had the same basic comments, but I think yours drive the point home even better.

  4. Why, thank you, Doug.

    Thus proving that I can write circles around all those conservative lawyers.

    The liberal ones, too.

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