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“National Security Be Damned!” Say NY And LA Times

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Despite appeals from the Bush Administration as well as several current and former government officials — both Democrat and Republican — the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times decided to break a story today that could have far-reaching effects on America’s War on Terror.

The story concerns a covert intelligence program, the “Swift operation,” that enables US intelligence agencies to access and examine the banking transactions of suspected terrorists.

Swift — an acronym for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication — forms the epicenter of the global banking industry, and oversees an estimated $6 trillion of inter-bank transfers on a daily basis. The Swift operation, however, does not allow US intelligence officials to gain unfettered access to Swift’s records:

The program is limited . . . to tracing transactions of people suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda. . . . The records mostly involve wire transfers and other methods of moving money overseas and into and out of the United States. Most routine financial transactions confined to this country are not in the database.

The program was put in place shortly after the 9/11 attacks and is viewed as a vital tool for choking off terrorist financing. As the NY Times points out:

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.

Though withheld from the public, knowledge of the banking program was not restricted to the Bush Administration. In fact, the 9/11 commission was apprised of the program as were several members of Congress. In terms of the program’s legality, the undersecretary at the Treasury Department, Stuart Levey, assures that no laws have been broken:

“[The program] has provided us with a unique and powerful window into the operations of terrorist networks and is, without doubt, a legal and proper use of our authorities . . .”

Levey added that multiple safeguards were in place to protect against unwarranted searches of Americans’ records.

In terms of efficacy, the Swift operation is credited for the capture of leading al-Qaeda terrorist, Riduan Isamuddin, or “Hambali.” Hambali, is believed to have been the mastermind behind the 2002 Bali bombing, which claimed the lives of 202 people while injuring hundreds more.

More importantly, the Swift operation has been especially useful for identifying terrorists and terrorist cells within the United States. The program led to the capture and successful prosecution of Uzair Paracha, a Pakistani national, who laundered $200,000 for an al-Qaeda operative in his home country.

By breaking this story, the NY and LA Times have exposed a classified and effective operation that goes to the heart of America’s national security. According to government officials, the Swift operation is the largest effort yet at tracing terrorist financing, which helps to explain the Administration’s — and other officials’ — desire to keep it secret, especially from the enemy.

Bill Keller, executive editor of the NY Times, thinks differently:

“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.”

Doyle McManus, the Los Angeles Times’ Washington bureau chief, gave a similar response:

“It’s a tough call; it was not a decision made lightly. The key issue here is whether the government has shown that there are adequate safeguards in these programs to give American citizens confidence that information that should remain private is being protected.”

President Bush has since expressed his concern that the New York Times has once again chosen to expose a classified program at the expense of American security.

This latest, forceful declassification of an intelligence program by members of the media comes at a time when homegrown Jihadist networks have been uncovered in multiple countries. Just yesterday, a group of 7 would-be terrorists — self-described as a “black Muslim” group — were arrested in Miami for plotting to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago and an FBI building in Miami (one of the 7 suspects was arrested in Atlanta). A similar terror network was broken up in Canada only weeks before. Indeed, programs like the Swift operation have never been more vital to our security.

Still, the Swift operation is sure to spark outrage across America and will likely be viewed as evidence of President Bush invading privacy rights. To be sure, wherever individual liberties are threatened, Americans must fight tooth and nail to preserve them. In this case, however, the only liberty that was at stake was our right to life.

All will agree that safeguards are needed to protect Americans against those people who wish to do us harm. Americans should expect that some of those safeguards will fall short of aesthetically pleasing. However, that alone does not outweigh their benefits nor does it amount to an invasion of privacy.

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times committed a real disservice to the American people today by reporting on this story. One can only hope that other covert operations have been effected so as to replace the now useless Swift operation.

About Dr Politico

  • http://secondvibe.blogspot.com Q Bit

    Hypothetically speaking:

    If this administration stays in power for the next 10 years USA will be the next USSR – a police state.

    In reality:

    NY and LA Times did a great service to the country because that’s the right thing to do.

    The administration points the terrorist gun on our head and think they can get away with any damn thing.

    The right wings have no idea what they talk about – or what they care about – because the only thing they do care about is absolute power–in any form, shape or kind and anywhere, be it domestic, be it global.

  • http://midtopia.blogspot.com Sean Aqui

    And the Wall Street Journal reported it, too. Why don’t they get some hate?

  • ian_ra_fin

    ^^”His political views cannot be explained with a conservative or liberal label, as he often floats between the two.”

    That’s funny becuase I paid a visit to his site that is one big, happy bash of all things democratic, be it the Democratic party or anything he considers “un-American.”

    If ths is the best this site can do for unbiased opinions then you are just as much a joke as he is.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    Sean sez…
    *And the Wall Street Journal reported it, too. Why don’t they get some hate?*

    because the Administration and their Owners consider the WSJ their real “bible”?

    and they consider any other Media outlet that disagrees with them the Enemy…because they cannot control it

    c’mon kiddies…classic Rove since he got off from being Prosecuted…look at each days headlines, then consider how much of those can easily be timed by use of Admin power

    example: the arrests in Miami yesterday, so Gonzalez could do the press conferencr today

    why yesterday for the bust?…why not weeks ago, when the fake al Qaeda operative ( the FBI agent) fist laid out the entrapment to catch these sick bastards…

    as soon as they said they were going to commit a terrorist act, there was enough to bust them on the conspiracy charges…and that was quite a while ago, by all accounts

    so why yesterday?

    possibly to control the headlines fo rthe weekend? which was ruined by the Story reported in this Article?

    mebbe i’m just paranoid…but it all fits the Pattern of how the WH political machine has worked since inception

    your mileage may vary

    Excelsior?

  • http://www.partisantimes.com Dr Politico

    Sean,

    “And the Wall Street Journal reported it, too. Why don’t they get some hate?”

    The Administration confronted the NY Times and LA Times directly, from my understanding of the story. They never approached the WSJ, as the other two papers already rejected his calls. The WSJ confirms that they were never asked to bury the story.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    excellent bit of info , Dr. P

    thanks for sharing it…

    now the Question is…why didn’t the Admin try and do the same stifle of the WSJ that they attempted with the other newspapers?

    Excelsior?

  • An average American

    This may well be a very important tool in the war on terror, but if government surveilance is not subject to the review and rule of law (that means, get a court order) then we will find ourselves ruled by tyrants.
    Our republic was designed with a balance of power so that no one, liberal or conservative, could steer us aground on their own. The publicity around this is a great service to America.

  • troll

    (I haven’t read the comments here – only the post – so sorry if this is a repeat question)

    why is this news – ?

    didn’t the administration say that it was doing/going to do just this all the way back in 2001 – ?

    SWIFT is nothing new nor do I believe is government access to its data

    troll

  • Kenny H.

    The Bush administration is likely in violation of the U.S. Constitution. These programs SHOULD BE EXPOSED. Danger of releasing state secrets is the same argument made in the Pentagon Papers case, and the person who put forth that claim later admitted there was no such danger, they were just trying to prevent the release of embarrassing material. Let’s not throw away the Constitution in the name of protecting the United States. If we lose the Constitution what we remains will be just a shell of what the Founding Fathers envisioned.

  • Kenny H.

    “In the First Amendment, the Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the government. Far from deserving condemnation for their courageous reporting, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers should be commended for serving the purpose that the Founding Fathers saw so clearly.” New York Times v. U.S. (Pentagon Papers case).

  • troll

    methinks they protest too much and the fact that this has been publicized will have little impact other than inspiring some folks to move their money in alternative (‘surveillable’) ways

    if there were actually private way to move significant funds they would be sop already

    troll

  • Cindy

    This is a call to all Americans. We are at the brink of a CIVIL WAR. The media has been suppressed. Please go to http://www.immigrationwatchdog.com Please review that site extensively. Also, it is important to watch the Paul Revere Ride video in which we announce possible civil war. Please tell your friends and everyone you meet about this site. Thank you
    God bless us and God bless America!

  • http://bacalar.blogspot.com Howard Dratch

    The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times committed a real disservice to the American people today by reporting on this story. One can only hope that other covert operations have been effected so as to replace the now useless Swift operation.

    May there be a lifetime of such “disservices” committed by the guardians of freedom — the press, the media, bloggers, writers and all those others who think that truth should see the light of day even when the government thinks that secrecy is needed.

    Secrecy, happily, is still needed when the Constitution is being trampled.

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    Bush is bound and determined to undermine the constitutional system of checks and balances in this country.

    As he tries to grab more and more power for the executive branch, anyone who opposes him are revisionist unelected judges, the liberal press, or just plain unpatriotic “evildoers”.

    Taken as a whole his actions against the american people is definately a impeachable offense, but he’s being smart about it and eroding our freedoms in tiny steps.

    Critisizing him is like asking someone which one of those 100 little pieces of tape on your arm bothers you the most.

    one at a time they’re insignificant, taken together they’re important.

  • http://jpsgoddamnblog.blogspot.com JP

    Sorry, guy – the Bush administration has gone far beyond reasonable secrecy with its policies in the name of “terror,” and is now suffering the unavoidable result. I’d even go so far as to say I can’t blame the BBC for suggesting the arrests made in Miami last night were blown way out of proportion compared to their actual seriousness. It’s hard to trust what these guys say anymore.

    This “national security” defense is a sham, and everybody has figured it out. Sorry.

  • Clavos

    Whar REALLY makes the administration look inept is the fact that the NY and LA newspapers found out about it.

    Any Latin American administration worth its stuffed ballot boxes would NEVER let the local papers get even a whiff of anything they wanted to keep secret.

    Hell, even the Latino pols here in Miami can do that!

    Gringo pols can’t even trample the people’s rights efficiently.

    ¡Pendejos!

  • Arch Conservative

    regarding the wsj nyt and lat…………i think the operative word is “broke” the story……….

    if the nyt times leaked it before anyone else then there is no blame to be had or scorn by anyone who reported it aftert hey already had

  • http://jpsgoddamnblog.blogspot.com JP

    The Times reports Cheney said about the revelations: “That offends me.”

    Best news all day.

  • Joey

    Who passed the info to the press?

    Another government yahoo… not unlike the dork who took the laptop home with all the Veteran’s SSN’s on it.

  • http://www.ofcourseimright.com Eliot

    Ask yourself this: what is left to secure and how is this government different than any other group of thugs? In the name of national security, this government has secretly tortured people, held them without ANY form of a hearing, and spied on Americans while at the same time leaking the name of Valarie Plame, the wife of a political enemy. But that’s okay because President Bush authorized such a leak?

    Aren’t we supposed to be a nation of laws and not men? The basic precept of our constitution is the balance of powers. A Republican Congress and a weak willed court have hitched their ride to King George whose madness is plain to see, and so there is no balance. Our freedoms and our right to privacy, as a result, have been trampled.

    Thank goodness there are brave people to expose the shameful destruction of a document I’m quite sure you would never have voted for: the Bill of Rights.

  • juco

    How refreshing to see some intelligent clarity in the comments posted here. This in sharp contrast to the postings in American newspapers, the majority of opinions seeming to support their governments policies in ‘keeping them safe’. But I am not dispaired, not when there are still people out there ( I mean the US) willing to inform their fellow citizens of truths. Well done NYT / LAT.
    Thank God I live in Europe, I appreciate my freedom.

    ps. I cannot recall an instance during any financial transaction reading a disclaimer that the American government and the CIA are looking over my shoulder and are privy to my person. Did I ever ask for you to be my shepherd, policeman or some sort of a white knight? Thought not.

  • http://www.partisantimes.com Dr Politico

    juco,

    “ps. I cannot recall an instance during any financial transaction reading a disclaimer that the American government and the CIA are looking over my shoulder and are privy to my person.”

    That’s because they weren’t.

    “Thank God I live in Europe”

    I am equally pleased.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    If this administration stays in power for the next 10 years USA will be the next USSR – a police state.

    What are you smoking, Q Bit? This administration’s term is up in 2008. That’s it, that’s all she wrote.

    Thank God I live in Europe, I appreciate my freedom.

    I imagine you appreciate it more when you have so little of it left.

    Dave

  • JustOneMan

    hey arch…let me translate most of the Bush hating drivel posted in here…

    “Lions and tigers and bears…oh my..”

    Jerko…If you are noy sending money to some Muslin terrorist you have nothing to worry about…but if you are…maybe you should be worried..

    PS Thank God you do live in Europe…

  • Joe

    This is obviously the work of a right wing nut job.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Are you suggesting that a left-wing nutjob would not have reported on a story like this?

    Dave

  • Sam

    Concerning this subject, below article would be a worth reading: subcoded.com

  • http://insiderealestatejournal.blogspot.com Mr. Real Estate

    Are we more secure now because Treasury and the NSA is using their ability to invade Americans’ privacy? That’s the question that must be asked, and it must be proven. If Americans’ privacy is not being violated, then there’ really no concern; it’s the invasion of privacy that concerns many.

    We seem to be in the 1970s again, what with rampant inflation and misuses of public power. Ronald Reagan capitalized on this sentiment, stating that government wasn’t the solution to our problems, government was the problem.

    There will be another Ronald Reagan if the fake Republicans in Washington don’t start walking like Republicans. Talk just doesn’t cut it anymore for me. Bush is just as socialist as any left-wing nut out there. Government spending is at a record high and with interest rates rising that’s going to cost my grandkids a ton, especially with the dollar getting weaker. The huge trade deficit isn’t helping either, and Bush has done nothing to stop its growth.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    Mr. Real Estate sez…
    *Talk just doesn’t cut it anymore for me. Bush is just as socialist as any left-wing nut out there. Government spending is at a record high and with interest rates rising that’s going to cost my grandkids a ton, especially with the dollar getting weaker. The huge trade deficit isn’t helping either, and Bush has done nothing to stop its growth.*

    Quoted for Truth

    this whole SWIFT story is such a non-issue, imo

    we knew from admission that right after 9/11 the government was all up in financial transactions…and from all accounts SWIFT insisted on proper warrants, even as widespread and nebulous as those were…they DID satisfy the bank officials

    now, if it was found out that purely domestic transactions are data-mined, then we add another layer…

    as for the “outing” of this program, again..why the suprise? it was about as publicly announced as possible…and even the small time drug dealer knows better when it comes to moving money than to do so openly in a trackable fashion…

    so…we are forced to conclude that the only “juice” for this whole Story is so the GOP types can bash the MSM some more to fire up their base

    another transparent Rovian ploy…

    /sigh

    Excelsior?

  • http://insiderealestatejournal.blogspot.com Mr. Real Estate

    so…we are forced to conclude that the only “juice” for this whole Story is so the GOP types can bash the MSM some more to fire up their base

    another transparent Rovian ploy…

    Smart observation. Ironically, though, it only helps Republicans in Congress; it actually hurts President Bush. Funny how that works.

  • IgnatiusReilly

    I must admit, I am baffled that people think this is some “revelation” by the press. While it might not be politcally correct to say, our country’s enemies are smart and this seems like a rather obvious tactic the government would use.

    The same goes for data mining phones. Every teenage drug dealer knows not to use the phones for “business”, but somehow a group that was able to pull off 9/11 doesn’t know such a basic concept.

    While we might catch some low level thugs, the big fish are only going to be caught by informants and infiltrating the organization.

    Cries of the sky falling from the right seem either disingenous or ignorant.