Thomas Kean, the co-chairman of the September 11 Commission, was briefed several weeks ago about the Treasury Department’s terrorist-finance program, and after the session, Kean says, “I came away with the idea that this was a good program, one that was legal, one that was not violating anybody’s civil liberties…and something the U.S. government should be doing to make us safer.”
Kean tells National Review Online
that the New York Times
’s decision to expose the terrorist finance effort — Kean called Times
executive editor Bill Keller in an attempt to persuade him not to publish — has done terrible damage to the program. “I think it’s over,” Kean says. “Terrorists read the newspapers. Once the program became known, then obviously the terrorists were not going to use these methods any more.”
Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, says he had a pessimistic feeling after calling Keller. “He couldn’t have been more courteous,” Kean recalls. “He said he’d take my views into consideration. But…when the Treasury Department called to ask whether I had made the call, I said, ‘Yes, I have, but I think you have a problem.’“
For Kean, the story started when he was contacted by the Treasury Department after officials there learned that the Times was preparing a story. Kean describes the officials as being “very agitated and very concerned” about possible exposure of the program. “It was top, top secret,” Kean says.
At the time, Kean didn’t know about the program. He says the commission’s other co-chairman, former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, did know, having been briefed when the commission was conducting its investigation into the September 11 terrorist attacks. (There were a number of issues about which just one of the co-chairmen was informed, Kean says; this, apparently, was one of them.)
But faced with a possible Times story, Treasury wanted to tell Kean about the program, and two officials traveled to his office in Far Hills, New Jersey. “They sat here and closed all the doors and told me that my security clearance had been reactivated for the purpose of the briefing,” Kane says. “They gave me a full briefing about the program; they were here quite a while.”
At the end of the meeting — Kean says he asked a lot of questions — Kean was satisfied that the program was effective and should remain classified. Treasury officials asked that he call Keller. When he did, he was not encouraged. “You just get a feeling,” Kean recalls. “I just had a sense that they were leaning toward running the story.” Keller, he says, listened to his concerns but did not attempt to make the case for publication. (Hamilton also called the Times to request that the paper not reveal the program.)
The exposure of the terrorist-finance program was particularly troubling to Kean because the 9/11 Commission had given high marks to the administration’s efforts in the area of terrorist financing. Last December, the commission issued a report card for the administration, and in a number of areas, the grades weren’t very good. For example, the commissioners gave the administration a “D” for bag and cargo screening at airports, a “D” for critical infrastructure assessment, and a “D” for government-wide information sharing about terrorism. In fact, the only area in which the administration scored an “A” — actually an “A-” — was in its efforts on terrorist financing. “The U.S. has won the support of key countries in tackling terrorism finance,” the commissioners wrote, “though there is still much to do in the Gulf States and in South Asia. The government has made significant strides in using terrorism finance as an intelligence tool.”
Now, a major part of that effort appears to have been compromised. “That’s the way it is in this war,” says Kean. “There are a number of programs we are using to try to disrupt terrorist activities, and you never know which one is going to be successful. We knew that this one already had been.”
— Byron York, NR’s White House correspondent, is the author of The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President — and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.