The more that emerges about the New York Times’s treasonous disclosure of the once-secret SWIFT/Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, the more unsavory its treachery appears. The Bush-hating paper’s shameless self-justifications for its misdeeds look ever flimsier. Its inadequate excuses have disappeared into a cyclone of self-contradiction. Strict punishment for the Times’s crimes (and it has behaved criminally) is in order.
First, The Times
’s June 23 story on the CIA and Treasury Department’s efforts to follow terrorists’ money was no isolated incident. It is one of at least four instances in which the self-appointed “Paper of Record” imprudently has told terrorists and terror suspects that they were being watched. In addition to the SWIFT story, the Times
Exposed the NSA’s warrantless Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP), which secretly scrutinized international telephone conversations in which Islamofascists called into or out of the U.S.
“The damage has been very severe to our capabilities to carry out our mission,” then-CIA director Porter Goss told the Senate Intelligence Committee on February 2, referring to the Times’s December 16 TSP story. “I use the words ‘very severe’ intentionally. And I think the evidence will show that.” The Times’s revelations, Goss testified, left intelligence sources “no longer viable or usable, or less effective by a large degree.”
California Rep. Jane Harman, the House Intelligence Committee’s ranking Democrat agreed, calling the NSA program “essential to U.S. national security.” Its revelation, she added, “damaged critical intelligence capabilities.”
As Michelle Malkin recently reminded us, Judith Miller (of le affaire Plame fame) called the Holy Land Foundation in fall 2001, soon after 9/11, to seek “comment” on an anticipated federal freeze on their bank accounts. Such “government action was imminent,” federal prosecutors say Miller told the charity’s leaders. The FBI searched the allegedly terror-tied foundation’s offices the day after the Times ran Miller’s article. Learning that the heat was on, who knows what evidence terror suspects spent hours destroying?
A few weeks later, Times correspondent Philip Shenon rang the Global Relief Foundation. According to federal officials, Shenon informed the charity’s leaders that the FBI soon would raid its facility. Indeed, the next day, December 14, 2001, G-Men entered the GRF’s offices because, Treasury said, the Islamic charity “received funding from individuals associated with al Qaida. GRF officials have had extensive contacts with a close associate of Usama Bin Ladin, who has been convicted in a U.S. court for his role in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.”
The Justice Department was not amused.
“It has been conclusively established that Global Relief Foundation learned of the search from reporter Philip Shenon of The New York Times,” U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald wrote the Times’s legal department on August 7, 2002. Shenon’s tip-off, Fitzgerald continued, “seriously compromised the integrity of the investigation and potentially endangered the safety of federal law-enforcement personnel.”
While it seemingly involved no classified information, the Times again displayed its contempt for public safety in a recent article on the summer homes of Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Both men are obvious terror targets. Nevertheless, this story provided driving directions to these two men’s vacation getaways in rural Maryland. The Times identified the relevant highways, streets, and even turning instructions to these properties. Also named were several stores where Mrs. Rumsfeld shops. The article includes a photo of the Rumsfelds’ home and, shockingly, pinpoints a well-concealed security camera on the premises.
What did this article accomplish but the endangerment of these two top officials? If the Times did not act with actual malice, it certainly exhibited a reckless disregard for Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their loved ones. To imagine what Islamic extremists could do with this particular Times dispatch, look no further than militant Muslim Mir Aimal Kasi’s January 1993 fatal shooting of two intelligence officers at the driveway of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
Second, the Times did not just casually run this article, and then suffer the slings and arrows of public outcry. It did so against the active resistance of prominent officials, both in and out of government, who virtually begged the paper on a bipartisan basis to can this story. Among those who urged The Times not to disclose SWIFT were:
Iraq-war critic, U.S. Rep. John Murtha (D., Pa.)
September 11 Commissioner Tim Roemer (Democrat)
September 11 Commission Co-chairman Lee Hamilton (Democrat)
September 11 Commission Co-chairman Tom Kean
Assistant Treasury Secretary for Public Affairs Tony Fratto
Treasury Secretary John Snow
National Intelligence Director John Negroponte
The Times did not publicize some nefarious right-wing plot. Rather SWIFT was a vital tool in the War on Terror supported by Republicans, as well as Democrats who otherwise criticize the Bush administration.
Third, if this program were illegal, the Times might have some justification for exposing it. However, a long-time adviser to Senator John Kerry (D., Mass.) is among those on the Left who echo Republicans who have praised SWIFT’s value and lawfulness.
“If I’d been in the government at the time that this program was put into place, I would have wanted it kept secret,” Jonathan Winer said on Fox News Channel Tuesday. “I would have kept it secret. And I think it was very important that it was secret for a period of years.” The former Clinton State Department official added: “I have absolutely no doubt that this program is legal. Let me repeat it. I have absolutely no doubt that this program is legal.”
Now, even Times executive editor Bill Keller conceded as much about SWIFT on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday: “There didn’t seem to be any obvious illegality about it.”
Another Times rationale for this story crumbles.
Fourth, the Times cannot claim that the SWIFT program was a newsworthy example of government bungling. In fact, it was highly effective. SWIFT helped catch:
Hambali, the architect of the October 2002 Bali disco blasts that killed 202 vacationers and injured 300 others.
Brooklyn’s own Uzair Paracha convicted of laundering $200,000 headed for al Qaeda agents in Pakistan. Paracha also tried to sneak an al Qaeda operative into the U.S., specifically to attack Maryland.
SWIFT assisted Scotland Yard’s probe of the July 7, 2005, London transit bombings that killed 52 commuters.
SWIFT helped authorities locate a key Iraqi terrorist.
Paul Greenberg reports that “These international banking records led American authorities to investigate Islamic ‘charities’ suspected of funneling money to terrorist cells…”
“The SWIFT data has proven to be one of the most valuable sources of information that we have on terrorist financing,” Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey said June 23. “It has enabled us and our colleagues to identify terrorist suspects we didn’t know, and to find addresses for those that we did.”
Other SWIFT successes likely remain appropriately under wraps.
Fifth, the Times cannot hide behind the fact that the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times also published this story on June 23. The Times pursued SWIFT for weeks before any other news outlet had heard about SWIFT. As a lengthy Journal editorial explained last Friday, Treasury officials concluded The Times would spurn their pleas not to publish. So, the day before the story broke, they offered The Times several declassified talking points about SWIFT because, as Assistant Secretary Fratto put it, “They had 80 percent of the story, but they had about 30 percent of it wrong.”
Treasury also gave that declassified information to the Journal’s Glenn Simpson. As the Journal’s editorial put it: “Our guess is that Treasury also felt Mr. Simpson would write a straighter story than the Times, which was pushing a violation-of-privacy angle; on our reading of the two June 23 stories, he did.”
Sixth, the Times’ standards for disclosure are frightfully low:
Despite all the objections he heard, Keller said he ran the SWIFT story because it “is a matter of public interest.”
Beyond the government’s counterterrorism failures, Keller told CBS: “I think you probably would like to know what they’re doing that’s successful as well.”
Imagine that in a few weeks, a yet-unpublished galley crosses Keller’s desk: “For bin Laden, a Mole in His Cave,” reads the typically swishy Times headline. Beneath it, the story explains that U.S. officials have lied about not knowing Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts. In fact, a deep-cover CIA agent has sat right beside the terror master since January, absorbing everything he hears about al Qaeda’s structure, assets, and plans for further mass bloodshed in America. Once he believes he has learned all he can, said agent will poison bin Laden in his sleep, escape, and seek rescue from US GIs on the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Newsworthy? What a scoop!
A matter of public interest? Who wouldn’t find this interesting?
A success in the War on Terror? Wow, we penetrated bin Laden’s cave!
So, why not run this story? And if the agent subsequently got his throat slit? Shiv happens.
The New York Times, clearly unhindered by patriotism, easily could talk itself into publishing such an article.
Seventh, referring to the Bush administration, Keller sniffed on Face the Nation: “I think they’re a little embarrassed that they’ve had so much trouble holding onto their secrets.” Of course, the administration might not have “so much trouble holding onto” its secrets if the Times heeded high-level, bipartisan pleas not to publish them.
Such revelations have turned America into the town gossip of international intelligence. Why should any country collaborate with the CIA and other U.S. spy agencies knowing that their contacts, techniques, and activities could become front-page news within days?
Lack of international cooperation makes it harder, not easier, for America to connect the very dots the Times has demanded that the Bush administration connect.
As ex-CIA chief Porter Goss told senators last February: “I’m stunned to the quick when I get questions from my professional counterparts saying, ‘Mr. Goss, can’t you Americans keep a secret?’”
Along the same hypocritical lines, the Times screamed within a fortnight of 9/11 for the federal government to do exactly what the federal government did. A September 24, 2001, Times editorial asked Washington to “disable the financial networks used by terrorists.” It continued:
The Bush administration is preparing new laws to help track terrorists through their money-laundering activity and is readying an executive order freezing the assets of known terrorists. Much more is needed, including stricter regulations, the recruitment of specialized investigators and greater cooperation with foreign banking authorities. There must also be closer coordination among America’s law enforcement, national security and financial regulatory agencies. [Emphasis added.]
President Bush did precisely what the Times prescribed. Indeed, he may have underdelivered, as the Times wanted “much more.” For doing as it asked, the Old Gray Lady now has smacked Bush (and America) capriciously over the head with her cane.
So, what is to be done with this irresponsible rag?
As Gabriel Schoenfeld explained in the July 3 Weekly Standard, Congress in 1950 passed something called the “Comint statute.” It did so in light of a 1930s book that traced America’s unraveling of Japan’s military codes. Tokyo, in turn, tightened its cryptography. Consequently, a 1949 Senate report stated, America could not “decode the important Japanese military communications in the days immediately leading up to Pearl Harbor.”
In short, loose lips sank ships.
The resulting law, U.S. Criminal Code Title 18, Section 798, reads:
Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes, transmits, or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes, or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States or for the benefit of any foreign government to the detriment of the United States any classified information . . . concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United States . . . shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both [Schoenfeld’s emphasis.]
Under this law, and perhaps also the 1917 Espionage Act, the Times deserves to be indicted immediately for its NSA and SWIFT stories. Keller & Company should pay for the harm they repeatedly inflict on America’s national security and potentially on the very lives of U.S. citizens. The Times’s government sources who leaked these vital secrets should be prosecuted energetically as well.
The Times also should face a consumer–led boycott from coast to coast. If you subscribe to this seditious paper, please cancel your subscription. If you have no choice but to quote or consult it, make use of its free web features. If you are an advertiser, please market your wares in any of the thousands of other worthy American media outlets. Your money in the Times’s pockets will stymie the men and women who struggle to prevent more terrorist mass murder on our shores.
The White House, Cabinet departments, and Congress should revoke Times staffers’ press credentials. Such ID cards are privileges, not items granted by constitutional right. Times writers can practice their First Amendment liberty to publish stories that do not endanger the lives of American citizens and soldiers. They are free to do so the way journalists report on Washington from, say, Seattle to San Diego — by telephone, fax, and e-mail.
If, as President Bush told reporters June 26, “the disclosure of this program is disgraceful,” there is no reason employees of this disgraceful publication should hobnob with Tony Snow in the White House press room or fly with the president on Air Force One. The Times can cover the world from deep inside its Washington, D.C. bureau and its Manhattan headquarters.
The matters at hand could not be graver. The New York Times on at least four occasions has made it easier, not harder, for Islamic extremists to kill Americans. The Times is utterly serene about this. Its reporters, editors, and publishers should be punished for the aid and comfort they have provided America’s bloodthirsty enemies.
— Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.