Allah has the video of today’s Tony Snow v. Helen Thomas showdown. Includes the classic line: “Helen, will you stop heckling and let me conduct the press conference.” Someone should have said that a long time ago.
Regarding the substance of Thomas’s heckles (she was repeatedly shouting that the program is illegal), Andy McCarthy provides the facts, which do not support Helen’s accusation:
The effort, which the government calls the “Terrorist Finance Tracking Program” (TFTP), is entirely legal. There are no conceivable constitutional violations involved. The Supreme Court held in United States v. Miller (1976) that there is no right to privacy in financial-transaction information maintained by third parties. Here, moreover, the focus is narrowed to suspected international terrorists, not Americans, and the financial transactions implicated are international, not domestic. This is not data mining, and it does not involve fishing expeditions into the financial affairs of American citizens. Indeed, few Americans even have information that is captured by the program — though there would be nothing legally offensive even if they did.
And unlike the last vital program the New York Times compromised — the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program, which the same reporters, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, exposed last December — there is not even a facially plausible concern that the TFTP violates statutory law. The provisions germane here (mainly, the Right to Financial Privacy Act that Congress enacted in 1978 in reaction to Miller) do not even apply to the nerve center at issue, the Society of Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication.
That’s because SWIFT, as it is better known, is not a financial institution at all. It is a consortium, centered not in the U.S. but in Belgium, which simply — albeit importantly — oversees how funds are routed globally. It is a messenger, not a bank. Nevertheless, in an abundance of caution, the government uses administrative subpoenas — which were expressly provided for by Congress in the aforementioned Financial Privacy Act and the Patriot Act — when it seeks SWIFT information. That’s not just legal; it’s hyper-legal.
None of that made any difference. The NYT and LAT exposed the program anyway because, to quote Patterico, “there were concerns. Some people expressed reservations. Others thought it was inappropriate. Others thought that they were exploiting a gray area.” Under this standard, what classified national-security information would they refrain from exposing?