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June 29, 2006
Why Bush Got Angry

Scott Shane provides an interesting and balanced look at George Bush' reaction to the publication of the covert Swift intel program, ironically in today's New York Times. In it, Shane acknowledges the effect that his newspaper's reporting will have on efforts to track terrorist financing:

Ever since President Bush vowed days after the Sept. 11 attacks to "follow the money as a trail to the terrorists," the government has made no secret of its efforts to hunt down the bank accounts of Al Qaeda and its allies.

But that fact has not muted the fury of Mr. Bush, his top aides and many members of Congress at the decision last week by The New York Times and other newspapers to disclose a centerpiece of that hunt: the Treasury Department's search for clues in a vast database of financial transactions maintained by a Belgium-based banking consortium known as Swift. ...

Experts on terror financing are divided in their views of the impact of the revelations. Some say the harm in last week's publications in The Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal may have been less in tipping off terrorists than in putting publicity-shy bankers in an uncomfortable spotlight.

"I would be surprised if terrorists didn't know that we were doing everything we can to track their financial transactions, since the administration has been very vocal about that fact," said William F. Wechsler, a former Treasury and National Security Council official who specialized in tracking terrorism financing.

But Mr. Wechsler said the disclosure might nonetheless hamper intelligence collection by making financial institutions resistant to requests for access to records.

"I wouldn't be surprised if these recent articles have made it more difficult to get cooperation from our friends in Europe, since it may make their cooperation with the U.S. less politically palatable," Mr. Wechsler said.

The problem did not come from the knowledge of our efforts to track financing; it comes from the exposure of the specific tactics we used to do so. As my previous post on Canada shows, that exposure has created pressure on those people who cooperated with American intel agencies to track those transactions. The damage will not limit itself to that particular effort either, but to all instances where we need to discreetly receive cooperation from allies. The Paper of Record has made sure than no one can rely on American discretion.

The House has competing resolutions regarding this revelation, as Shane reports. Republicans have proposed one that supports the Swift effort and scolds unnamed media outlets for jeopardizing national-security efforts. The Democrats have offered an alternative that skips over the generic finger-wagging. Neither resolution has any meaning or teeth, and both should be withdrawn as an embarrassment to the politicians who sponsored them.

Instead of meaningless resolutions, Congress needs to hold hearings immediately on the rash of leaks coming from our intel agencies and Department of Defense. They need to demand an investigation by the Department of Justice that will identify the perpetrators and charge them with the felonies they have committed by their unauthorized release of classified information.

We need to forget about prosecuting the Times for the releases. That dog won't hunt politically, and legally it will be a necessarily tough sell. The people who leaked this information, however, violated a number of laws in doing so. The reporters involved in these stories need to have subpoenas issued to them for their testimony -- and if they do not cooperate, then they need to sit in jail until they do.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 29, 2006 10:19 AM

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» How Now, Brown Cow? from Hard Starboard
The NSA terrorist surveillance program was a serious compromising, but that avenue is at least a technological one where adjustments can be made to recover some of the program's utility. The Swift program, by contrast, is functionally irreplaceable i... [Read More]

Tracked on July 3, 2006 11:20 AM


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