NYT executive editor Bill Keller and former NSA director Admiral Bob Inman were on NewsHour last night discussing the NYT’s disclosure of the SWIFT program. I found the following exchange interesting:
JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Keller, what explains to you this storm, in particular aimed at The New York Times? Do you think that Americans — a lot of Americans would probably be asking, what gives you, The New York Times or The Los Angeles Times, or any other paper, the right to decide what is not dangerous, for example, or what is in their interest?
BILL KELLER: They are indeed asking that question, and I think there’s a good deal of legitimate concern and confusion about that question.
What gives us that right is the guys who wrote the Constitution. They had in mind a system whereby ordinary citizens and editors, amateurs, were entitled, under the basic law of the country, to second-guess the leadership of the country. That’s a responsibility that weighs heavily on us and that we take very, very seriously.
My response to this argument would be very similar to Mike Rule’s, so I’ll move along:
And I don’t know quite what the alternative would be, short of some kind of censorship, which, clearly, was not what the founders of the country had in mind.
JEFFREY BROWN: Admiral Inman?
ADMIRAL BOBBY INMAN: Nor is it what I have in mind.
But I am troubled by the sense that there are no consequences for a decision to ignore advice from multiple people. If I understood correctly, the secretary of treasury, the director of national intelligence both made the case that this was extraordinarily sensitive. And the decision simply to dismiss that, on the judgment that we have a broader need, troubles me.
At this point, it’s worth noting that Admiral Inman thinks the Terrorist Surveillance Program – which the NYT exposed last December — should not operate without FISA warrants. His public criticism of TSP makes his support of the administration on this issue even more damning for the NYT.
JEFFREY BROWN: Final response, Mr. Keller?
BILL KELLER: Well, we did not dismiss that. We really did not.
I mean, you know, three years ago, the same secretary of the treasury took a group of reporters from The Times and other papers on a six-day tour of the Middle East to look at the sensitive details of how hard they’re working to track international financing of terrorism.
You know, it’s OK, when it’s public relations, to promote the success of the war on terror, but it’s a breach of security when they don’t want us to publish.
Keller’s anecdote about Secretary Snow’s six-hour tour was irrelevant when he trotted it out on Face the Nation, and it’s irrelevant now, because at no time on the tour did Snow authorize reporters to publish details about the SWIFT program.
Keller is desperate to debate anything — freedom of speech, terrorist-finance tracking in general, conservatives vs. the New York Times – as long as it distracts from the issues at hand, which are his decision to publish the details of a secret, effective and legal program and the consequences of that decision. That’s because every time he tries to defend his decision, he says something absurd like “It’s not news to the terrorists,” even though members of Congress, the Bush administration and the headline on his own story declared that it was a secret program!
UPDATE: What with traveling to CT, I missed Allah’s take on the latest excuse from the BK lounge: Everybody knew about SWIFT except everybody in America.