Let’s hear it for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and all such stalwarts of this country’s free and irresponsible press. For they’ve just exposed still another program designed to protect the national security.
This time it was the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, which was designed to give American intelligence access to records kept by SWIFT, the banking cooperative that monitors nearly all international money transfers. This operation sounds like a clear and ever-present danger to privacy, all right, specifically the privacy of terrorists. Just look at its shocking record:
Tracking these bank transfers led to the capture of Riduan Isamuddin, aka Hambali, widely thought to have played the key role in al Qaeda’s murderous 2002 bombing of a resort in Bali frequented by Australian infidels.
These international banking records led American authorities to investigate Islamic “charities” suspected of funneling money to terrorist cells, and in one case to the arrest and conviction of one Uzair Paracha of Brooklyn, N.Y., for helping an al Qaeda operative by agreeing to launder $200,000 through a bank in Pakistan.
Tracing these bank transfers, those familiar with the program say, also turned up useful information about the July 7 bombings in London and helped authorities thwart other attacks.
This latest scoop for the New York Times comes in the wake of its having exposed the National Security Agency’s once-secret ability to track international phone calls, a form of data mining routinely described as “domestic spying” in our current newspeak.
The Times’ record of public service in this regard may have no equal since that of Colonel McCormick’s old Chicago Tribune. In its coverage of what would prove the decisive Battle of Midway in 1942, the isolationist and FDR-hating Trib revealed that American cryptographers had broken the Japanese naval code.
Happily, the Japanese didn’t notice, or refused to believe that the round-eyed barbarians could carry off such a feat. The Roosevelt administration was preparing to bring criminal charges — a grand jury was already investigating — but wisely held off lest the legal proceedings alert the enemy. (Luckily, the Tribune’s circulation in Tokyo was limited.)
But in this internetted age, today’s enemy doubtless pays close attention to the American media, and this story is all over it.
But what the heck, the scoop is what counts, and the Times may now have sewn up its next Pulitzer. That’s the important thing, isn’t it?
Some wouldn’t agree. According to one spokesman for the administration, George W. Bush is being his usual, secretive self: “The president is concerned that once again the New York Times has chosen to expose a classified program that is working to protect our citizens.” What a spoilsport.
It’s never been a secret that this administration was determined to find and cut off the terrorists’ financial support. But how? That was supposed to be a secret. Till now.
It’s not the government’s attempt to protect the national security that disturbs some of us about this story, but the number of anonymous “former government intelligence officials” with no scruples about leaking classified information. Oaths, shmoaths.
If these are the kind of experts we’re counting on to protect us against the next terrorist attack… . Well, this story now all over the news isn’t exactly assuring.
Just a thought: Suppose such no-longer-secret programs should fail to prevent the next terrorist attack, whether on our troops and people abroad or here in this country, what do you think the next day’s editorial in the formerly good gray New York Times would say?
Here’s my guess. Today’s jazzy Times, pacesetter for with-it opinion, would doubtless run a searing attack on this incompetent administration for not having prevented the attack.
What’s more, it would demand an immediate investigation of the FBI, the CIA, the Treasury and Justice departments and probably the president, vice president and secretary of Defense, too, for having failed to discover how the terrorists financed this terrifying attack.
Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.