Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Here is why I defend the New York Times..........

Its tough to be a thinker here in Bloggerville. If you try not to just be a zealot for either side, you have a tough time. Consider the latest furor over the New York Times publishing of the fact that the government is monitoring financial transactions in the US. The Times defends its actions thusly:
Since September 11, 2001, our government has launched broad and secret anti-terror monitoring programs without seeking authorizing legislation and without fully briefing the Congress. Most Americans seem to support extraordinary measures in defense against this extraordinary threat, but some officials who have been involved in these programs have spoken to the Times about their discomfort over the legality of the government's actions and over the adequacy of oversight. We believe The Times and others in the press have served the public interest by accurately reporting on these programs so that the public can have an informed view of them.

Our decision to publish the story of the Administration's penetration of the international banking system followed weeks of discussion between Administration officials and The Times, not only the reporters who wrote the story but senior editors, including me. We listened patiently and attentively. We discussed the matter extensively within the paper. We spoke to others national security experts not serving in the administration for their counsel. It's worth mentioning that the reporters and editors responsible for this story live in two places, New York and the Washington area, that are tragically established targets for terrorist violence. The question of preventing terror is not abstract to us.

The Administration case for holding the story had two parts, roughly speaking: first that the program is good — that it is legal, that there are safeguards against abuse of privacy, and that it has been valuable in deterring and prosecuting terrorists. And, second, that exposing this program would put its usefulness at risk.

It's not our job to pass judgment on whether this program is legal or effective, but the story cites strong arguments from proponents that this is the case. While some experts familiar with the program have doubts about its legality, which has never been tested in the courts, and while some bank officials worry that a temporary program has taken on an air of permanence, we cited considerable evidence that the program helps catch and prosefinanciersncers of terror, and we have not identified any serious abuses of privacy so far. A reasonable person, informed about this program, might well decide to applaud it. That said, we hesitate to preempt the role of legislators and courts, and ultimately the electorate, which cannot consider a program if they don't know about it.

We weighed most heavily the Administration's concern that describing
this program would endanger it. The central argument we heard from officials at senior levels was that international bankers would stop cooperating, would resist, if this program saw the light of day. We don't know what the banking consortium will do, but we found this argument puzzling. First, the bankers provide this information under the authority of a subpoena, which imposes a legal obligation. Second, if, as the Administration says, the program is legal, highly effective, and well protected against invasion of privacy, the bankers should have little trouble defending it. The Bush Administration and America itself may be unpopular in Europe these days, but policing the byways of international terror seems to have pretty strong support everywhere. And while it is too early to tell, the initial signs are that our article is not generating a banker backlash against the program.

The counter argument is simple: that by publishing this info the Times is tipping the governments hand to the bad guys. To be honest I'm not so sure I follow the logic there. It presumes the enemy is a lot stupider than they are. Its been fairly common knowledge that governments monitor transactions, and has been since the advent of the war on drugs and / or efforts to control arms dealings. One has to assume that the cells in the organization assumed their transactions were being monitored. Certainly drug dealers have long done so.

Plus, the Federal government publicly announced at least twice, that it was doing financial transaction monitoring. Like I said the enemy may be crazy, but they are not stupid. Plus as has been reported quite often AlQuaeda is more of a loose confederation of crazies than an organized hierarchy. US pressure and attacks in Afghanistan have ensured that.

If the New York Times did do something wrong, then issue some subpoenas and get Bill Keller to go talk in front of the grand jury. The government won't do that because they know they don't have a case-and never will unless the libel laws are changed dramatically. So maybe there is another motive at play here, were the Administration and the New York Times are actually on the same team. Listen to the theory put forth by 9/11 commissioner Kerrey:

Bob Kerrey, a member of the 9/11 commission, [said] that if the news reports drive terrorists out of the banking system, that could actually help the counterterrorism cause. "If we tell people who are potential criminals that we have a lot of police on the beat, that's a substantial deterrent," said Mr. Kerrey, now president of New School University. If terrorists decide it is too risky to move money through official channels, "that's very good, because it's much, much harder to move money in other ways," Mr. Kerrey said.A State Department official, Anthony Wayne, made a parallel point in 2004 before Congress. "As we've made it more difficult for them to use the banking system," Mr. Wayne said, "they've been shifting to other less reliable and more cumbersome methods, such as cash couriers..."

Since [9/11], the Treasury Department has produced dozens of news releases and public reports detailing its efforts. Though officials appear never to have mentioned the Swift program, they have repeatedly described their cooperation with financial networks to identify accounts held by people and organizations linked to terrorism...

Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, convened a hearing in 2004 where Treasury officials described at length their efforts, assisted by financial institutions, to trace terrorists' money. But he has been among the most vehement critics of the disclosures about the Swift program, saying editors and reporters of The New York Times should be imprisoned for publishing government secrets.

Like I said maybe this is a careful choregraphed effort. Publicizing the program may have made it more difficult for the terrorists to operate. Just like the newspaper story about the prostitution and drug stings makes everybody on the street think twice before making a street deal, thereby expanding the presence of the cops. They could never be on every corner, but the johns and dealers and terrorists can never be sure which corner the cops are on. (Like I think the government should be wasting resources on prostitution anyway..........NOT!).

Maybe the leak and the outrage are all part of the same game. The info gets out, the Administration get to blast the press again, the President and Vice President get to feign outrage and fire up their conservative base, the Times takes one for the team. Everybody is happy. I doubt that is the case, but you have to admit it sure makes for an interesting consipiracy theory.
Besides do we really want to be like the "Mommy State", where they crush dissenting opinion at the drop of a hat?


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