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The New York Times has come under fire from a wide spectrum of observers for their hysterical and tabloidesque revelation of a national-security program that turns out to break no laws and endanger no one's civil liberties. Today, the Washington Post joins the chorus of criticism, albeit sotto voce, in their lead editorial today:
THE TREASURY Department's just-disclosed program of searching records of overseas bank transfers may provoke outraged comparisons to the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance and data-mining of telephone call records. At least if news reports and government statements concerning the revelations are correct, however, this program is far less troubling. As with all revelations concerning the secretive Bush administration, you have to worry about what you don't know. So far, however, it seems like exactly the sort of aggressive tactic the government should be taking in the war on terrorism.
For one thing, it appears to be legal. The government is receiving large volumes of data detailing financial transfers from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a Belgium-based consortium that acts as a kind of messenger service for banks around the world, electronically notifying banks of transactions other banks are attempting to complete. The government, if it develops suspicions about a person, can search the system for any transactions that person may have engaged in. While customer banking data are generally private under federal law, the statute does not appear to cover the society, which isn't a bank and doesn't have individual customers. What's more, a different law gives the president broad powers in a national emergency situation to investigate, or even prohibit, certain financial transactions.
It is also the sort of information the government should be examining in any effort to frustrate terrorist financing and develop leads about who is funding whom.
The Post doesn't come out and explicitly call the NY Times out for hyping a non-story nor say anything at all about the damage done to national security; that may be because their own news editors saw fit to run their own take on the NYT's story yesterday as well. However, it goes a long way to pointing out how little news Lichtblau and Risen reported, and how much hyperbole and bias it comprised instead.
Make no mistake: if this program doesn't violate the law or threaten civil liberties, both of which this editorial stipulates, then it serves no public purpose to report the clandestine efforts involved in pursuing terrorist financing. This editorial rebukes the argument offered by Bill Keller, before he disappeared to a "vacation", that the public interest outweighed national-security concerns.
No one elected Bill Keller to make those kind of decisions for our national security. The White House asked him to spike this story and explained to him why, and he chose to put us all at risk anyway, and as the Post notes, for no purpose other than to sell a few more papers. The Department of Justice needs to find out who leaked this information to Lichtblau and Risen, and at the same time hold Keller and the Times responsible for revealing classified information illegally. Until the Attorney General starts making Keller and his ilk responsible for their attacks on national security, no classified material will remain safe from exposure.Sphere It View blog reactions
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