New York Times for terrorists - President :Paper's disclosure of secret program "does great harm to the United States of America"
June 27, 2006
Bush berates newspaper after its latest exposure
By JULIE MASON
WASHINGTON - With an administration known for keeping secrets butting heads with a newspaper that has frustrated past presidents with its disclosures, President Bush on Monday pushed back angrily at the New York Times for publishing details of a terrorist finance surveillance program, which the president branded as "disgraceful."
"What we did was fully authorized under the law, and the disclosure of this program is disgraceful," Bush told reporters, jabbing a finger for emphasis. "We're at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America," he said, "and for people to leak that program, and for a newspaper to publish it, does great harm to the United States of America."
The Times' executive editor, Bill Keller, defended publication of the program's details. "Our default position — our job," Keller wrote in a letter to readers, "is to publish information if we are convinced it is fair and accurate, and our biggest failures have generally been when we failed to dig deep enough or to report fully enough."
Keller concluded: "Nobody should think that we made this decision casually, with any animus toward the current administration, or without fully weighing the issues."
The Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and others reported last week that the Bush administration has been secretly monitoring financial transactions since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington.
The program uses broad government subpoenas to obtain information from a database managed by a private company in Belgium that processes 11 million financial transactions a day in 200 countries.
While other newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle, printed details of the program, Bush singled out the New York Times for censure, arguing that the newspaper's disclosure makes it harder for the administration to fight terrorism.
"It's a nice political opportunity, and the Times is a target among their base," said Dennis Simon, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University. "The ardent conservatives in the Republican Party believe in biased mainstream media, and at the top of that list is the New York Times. So this is good politics for them."
History of discord
Such conflicts between the nation's elite newspaper and recalcitrant presidential administrations have a long history, capped by the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers, which disclosed secrets surrounding the Vietnam War and enraged then-President Nixon.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said other news organizations waited until the Times posted the story online before following up with their own versions.
"If the New York Times decides that it is going to try to assume responsibility for determining which classified secrets remain classified and which don't, it ought to accept some of the obligations of that responsibility; it ought to be able to take the heat, as well," Snow said.
In the letter posted on the newspaper's Web site, Keller wrote that the Bush administration had argued for weeks against publishing the story, saying the financial surveillance program was working and that publishing the details would compromise its usefulness.
"We heard similar arguments against publishing last year's reporting on the NSA eavesdropping program," Keller said. "We were told then that our article would mean the death of that program. We were told that telecommunications companies would, if the public knew what they were doing, withdraw their cooperation. To the best of my knowledge, that has not happened."
Reward 'is a disgrace'
The National Security Agency surveillance program was another disclosure by the Times that raised White House hackles. The secretive program used warrantless wiretapping against terrorist suspects in the United States talking to others overseas.
It was reported that the United States also was secretly collecting the phone records of millions of Americans, which the administration similarly said was for national security.
Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking at a fundraiser in Nebraska, echoed Bush's remarks, calling the newspaper articles "very damaging."
"What is doubly disturbing for me is, not only have they gone forward with these stories, but they've been rewarded for it, for example in the case of the terrorists surveillance program by being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for outstanding journalism. I think that is a disgrace," Cheney said.
The New York Times won journalism's highest honor in April for its work detailing the NSA spying program.
A press at war with the U.S.
The newspaper stories about surveillance of terrorists undermine safety of Americans.
By Michael Barone
Why do they hate us? No, I'm not talking about Islamofascist terrorists. We know why they hate us: because we have freedom of speech and freedom of religion, because we refuse to treat women as second-class citizens, because we do not kill homosexuals, because we are a free society.
No, the "they" I'm referring to are the editors of the New York Times. And do they hate us? Well, that may be stretching it. But at the least they have gotten into the habit of acting in reckless disregard of our safety.
Last December, the Times ran a story revealing that the National Security Agency was conducting electronic surveillance of calls from suspected al-Qaeda terrorists overseas to people in the United States. This was allegedly a violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. But in fact the president has, under his war powers, the right to order surveillance of our enemies abroad. And it makes no sense to hang up when those enemies call someone in the United States.
If the government is going to protect us from those who wish to do us grievous harm - and after Sept. 11 no one can doubt there are many such persons - then it should try to track them down as thoroughly as possible.
Little wonder that President Bush called in Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and top editor Bill Keller, and asked them not to run the story. But the Times went ahead and published it anyway. Now, thanks to the New York Times, al-Qaeda terrorists are aware that their phone calls can be monitored, and presumably have taken precautions.
Recenty, the Times did it again, printing a story revealing the existence of U.S. government monitoring of financial transactions routed through the Brussels-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, which routes about $6 trillion a day in electronic money transfers around the world. The monitoring is conducted by the CIA and supervised by the Treasury Department. An independent auditing firm has been hired to make sure only terrorist-related transactions are targeted.
Members of Congress were briefed on the program, and it does not seem to violate any law, at least any that the Times could identify. And it has been effective. As the Times reporters admit, it helped to locate the mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombing in Thailand and a Brooklyn man convicted on charges of laundering a $200,000 payment to al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan.
Once again, Bush administration officials asked the Times not to publish the story. Once again, the Times went ahead anyway. "We have listened closely to the administration's arguments for withholding this information, and given them the most serious and respectful consideration," Keller is quoted as saying. (It's interesting to note that he feels obliged to report he and his colleagues weren't smirking or cracking jokes.)
"We remain convinced that the administration's extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial data, however carefully targeted use of it may be, is a matter of public interest."
This was presumably the view as well of the "nearly 20 current and former government officials and industry executives" who were apparently the sources for the story.
But who elected them to make these decisions? Publication of the Times' December and June stories appears to violate provisions of the broadly written, but until recently, seldom-enforced provisions of the Espionage Act. Commentary's Gabriel Schoenfeld has argued that the Times can and probably should be prosecuted.
The counterargument is that it is a dangerous business for the government to prosecute the press. But it certainly is in order to prosecute government officials who have abused their trust by disclosing secrets, especially when those disclosures have reduced the government's ability to keep us safe. And pursuit of those charges would probably require reporters to disclose the names of those sources. As the Times found out in the Judith Miller case, reporters who refuse to answer such questions can go to jail.
Why do they hate us? Why does the Times print stories that put America more at risk of attack? They say that these surveillance programs are subject to abuse, but give no reason to believe that this concern is anything but theoretical. We have a press that is at war with an administration, while our country is at war against merciless enemies. The Times is acting like an adolescent kicking the shins of its parents, hoping to make them hurt while confident of remaining safe under their roof. But how safe will we remain when our protection depends on the Times?