- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Bush administration yesterday kept the heat on the New York Times, saying the newspaper’s disclosure of a secret financial tracking system “compromised one of our most valuable” weapons against al Qaeda.

“This is a very formidable enemy,” Stuart Levey, undersecretary of Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, told the House Financial Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations. “They are intelligent. They do what they can to cover their tracks. The fact that we’ve now made explicit the information that we’re looking at to track their money trails is definitely damaging.”

He said in his prepared statement that “this disclosure compromised one of our most valuable programs and will only make our efforts to track terrorist financing — and to prevent terrorist attacks — harder.”

The damage assessment from Mr. Levey was the latest White House denunciation of press leaks it says have hurt the war against al Qaeda and its network of terror cells.

Al Qaeda’s financing was one of the first targets designated by President Bush after the September 11 attacks. Some administration officials think that four years of disrupting al Qaeda’s sources of money have dried up available cash, such as charity fronts, and forced the group to turn to Afghan drug profits to finance operations.

The White House attacks on the press have cheered conservatives, who view the New York Times as a prime example of liberal press bias and as much of a foe to Republicans as the Democratic Party. Mr. Bush’s job approval ratings have risen nine points, to 40 percent, in the most recent Gallup poll. Some pundits suggest attacks on the Times have helped the president’s standing with Republican voters.

The Times has defended the June 23 publication, citing the public’s right to know how the government is fighting al Qaeda.

The hearing yesterday was called to assess damage to the now-exposed tracking program, which even administration critics say appears to be legal. Mr. Levey devoted most of his testimony to explaining how the “Terrorist Finance Tracking Program” — whereby the administration secretly subpoenaed a database for international financial transactions — has helped identify al Qaeda financiers and cells.

“Anyone who has tried to piece together a complex terrorism investigation, with months of sweat and dead ends, knows how important it can be to uncover a new connection or a new personal identifier,” he testified. “This program generated just such leads on a regular basis. … The fact is that financiers and associates of terrorist networks have continued to use the banking system, and this program continued to show us who they are and how they do so.”

But Mr. Levey suggested the program has been damaged, saying it “was until recently” a “powerful and invisible tool.”

Some Republicans, fresh from condemning the New York Times during a floor debate last month, renewed their criticism with a series of attacks.

Rep. Michael G. Oxley, Ohio Republican and chairman of the Financial Services Committee, said the press’ motives are suspect. “Sometimes I’m concerned that maybe the effectiveness of the program is what really upsets some folks in the media,” he said.

Democrats turned their attacks on the administration. They accused the White House of keeping committee members in the dark about the tracking program and blamed it for the leaks.

“The leaks didn’t come from the New York Times,” said Rep. David Scott, Georgia Democrat. “They came from people in your administration. The fundamental question has to be when is this administration going to look in the mirror? That’s where you need to look.”

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