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Why they blabbed: It’s the arrogance

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By Michelle Malkin  •  June 26, 2006 07:53 AM

***scroll for updates**

Patterico posts a valuable transcript of a radio interview conducted by LA Times columnist Patt Morrison with Times Washington Bureau Chief Doyle McManus about their blabbermouth article on the once-secret terrorist finance tracking program. Key portion with Patterico’s reax:

MORRISON: Doyle McManus, what kind of standards do you pretty much look at when you’re writing stories about national security? What standards do they have to meet?

McMANUS: Well, in a sense, we reason from the old wartime standard that if there is an ongoing military operation, an ongoing specific intelligence operation or an ongoing criminal investigation, uh, we don’t gratuitously reveal that unless there is a compelling public interest in doing so. You know, we don’t put lives of soldiers in danger. We don’t report that ships are leaving port.

Uh, but this was not a single intelligence operation. It was a change in policy. It was a change in the boundaries of what the government could do. It’s an enormous program that has allowed them to amass a huge database that essentially has the records of every international — not every, but an enormous percentage of the international banking transactions that have occurred since 2002 — and they’re keeping those.

Uh, we have been asking them, for example, they’ve told us: “Well, we are restricting our access to this database to cases we believe involve terrorism,” but when we’ve asked them, “Well, if, down the road, you decide you want to look into other categories of activity, could you do that?” they say, “Well, actually, yes. We do have the legal ability to do so.”

So, it’s — this is a broader issue than an individual operation. In any case, we take the question seriously of whether our disclosure of this policy change and this program will be to the disadvantage of legitimate government efforts against terrorism, and we have to weigh that against the legitimate public interest in knowing whether the government is changing the rules, knowing whether the government is operating within the law, um, knowing what the government is up to.”

Notes Patterico:

This, more than any other statement McManus makes, reveals the arrogance that upsets so many of us when we talk about this issue.

There are several problems with what you just said, Mr. McManus:

* Nobody elected you to be the guy doing that “weighing.”

* You did the “weighing” with insufficient information, because you didn’t have the full picture of how successful the program had been in fighting terror. Your reporters’ article states:

Current and former U.S. officials familiar with the SWIFT program described it as one of the most valuable weapons in the financial war on terrorism, but declined to provide even anecdotal evidence of its successes.

But as I have pointed out on this blog previously, the New York Times (unlike your reporters) managed to find officials who would disclose specific successes of the program — and those successes were significant. They included the capture of the mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombing, which killed 202 people. The president knows this. When you did your own personal “weighing” of the various factors, you didn’t.

* All of a sudden we have shifted the standard from a “compelling public interest” to a “legitimate” interest in “knowing what the government is up to.” Your defense of this burden-shifting appears to be: We didn’t reveal details on a single anti-terror operation, but rather details of a huge program that impacts several different terror operations. And, as to the question whether the government is “operating within the law,” you found no real evidence it wasn’t.

This leaves you in the position of having disrupted a major anti-terror program, by publishing classified information, with no justification other than telling your readers “what the government is up to” and “whether the government is changing the rules.”

As long as it’s legal, don’t you want the government to change the rules?? Don’t you want to prevent the next September 11?

You have to wonder with these people, don’t you?

The NYTimes chief blabbermouth, Bill Keller, rationalizes his paper’s decision here. Dan Riehl responds.

Hugh Hewitt dissects Keller here.

And Michael Barone asks:

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?

Andy McCarthy strikes again this morning:

Life or death. Which one it will be turns solely on intelligence and secrecy. Can you find out how they next intend to kill you, can you stop them, and can you prevent them from knowing how you know … so you can stop them again?

Simple as that. Modernity has changed many things, but it hasn’t changed that. In command of the first American military forces, and facing a deadly enemy, George Washington himself observed that the “necessity of procuring good intelligence is apparent and need not be further urged…. [U]pon Secrecy, Success depends in Most Enterprises … and for want of it, they are generally defeated.”

What on earth would George Washington have made of Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, and his comrades in today’s American media?

What would he have made of transparently politicized free-speech zealots who inform for the enemy and have the nerve to call it “patriotism.”

Who say, “If you try to isolate barbarians to make them hand up the other barbarians, we will expose it.”

“If you try to intercept enemy communications — as victorious militaries have done in every war ever fought — we will tell all the world, including the enemy, exactly what you’re up to.”

“If you track the enemy’s finances, we will blow you out of the water. We’ll disclose just what you’re doing and just how you’re doing it. Even if it’s saving innocent lives.”

And why this last? Remember five years ago, back when they figured “you’re not doing enough” was the best way to bash the Bush administration? Remember the Times and its ilk — disdainful of aggressive military responses — tut-tutting about how the disruption of money flows was the key to thwarting international terrorists. So why compromise that?

Is there some illegality going on in the government’s Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (exposed by the Times and other news outlets Friday)? No, no laws have been broken. Is there some abuse of power? No, there seem to have been extraordinary steps taken to inform relevant officials and win international cooperation. Why then? Why take action that can only aid and comfort the enemy in wartime?

Because, Keller haughtily pronounced, American methods of monitoring enemy money transfers are “a matter of public interest.”

Really? The Times prattles on about what it claims is a dearth of checks and balances, but what are the checks and balances on Bill Keller? Can it be that our security hinges on whether the editor of an antiwar, for-profit journal thinks some defense measure might be interesting?

Well, here’s something truly interesting: There are people in the U.S. intelligence community who are revealing the nation’s most precious secrets.

The media aspire to be the public’s watchdog? Ever on the prowl to promote good government? Okay, here we have public officials endangering American lives. Public officials whose violation of a solemn oath to protect national defense information is both a profound offense against honor and a serious crime.

What about the public interest in that? What about the public interest in rooting out those who betray their country in wartime?

And Glenn Reynolds roasts Keller:

Keller writes: “It’s an unusual and powerful thing, this freedom that our founders gave to the press. . . . The power that has been given us is not something to be taken lightly.”

The founders gave freedom of the press to the people, they didn’t give freedom to the press. Keller positions himself as some sort of Constitutional High Priest, when in fact the “freedom of the press” the Framers described was also called “freedom in the use of the press.” It’s the freedom to publish, a freedom that belongs to everyone in equal portions, not a special privilege for the media industry. (A bit more on this topic can be found here.)

Characterizing the freedom this way, of course, makes much of Keller’s piece look like, well, just what it is — arrogant and self-justificatory posturing. To quote Keller: “Forgive me, I know this is pretty elementary stuff — but it’s the kind of elementary context that sometimes gets lost in the heat of strong disagreements.”

Or institutional self-importance.

Heh.

Arrogance may not be a crime, but Rep. Peter King thinks the MSM blabbermouths ought to be prosecuted for publishing secrets in wartime. Gabriel Schoenfeld made the definitive case in the March issue of Commentary and testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the national security threat of the NYTimes’ December disclosure of terrorist surveillance earlier this month:

[E]very American was made aware on September 11 of the price of an intelligence shortfall. This is no game, but a matter of life and death.
President Bush has called the disclosure by the New York Times a “shameful act.” I have argued in the pages of Commentary that the decision was also a crime, a violation of the black letter law of Section 798. Today, as then, Congress sets the laws by which we live in our democracy and oversees the way they are carried out. If Congress, representing the American people, comes to believe that the executive branch is creating too many secrets, or classifying things that should not be secret, it has ample power to set things right: by investigating, by funding faster and better declassification, and/or by changing the declassification rules.

If, by contrast, a newspaper like the New York Times, a private institution representing no one but itself, acts recklessly by publishing vital government secrets in the middle of a perilous war, it should be prepared to accept the consequences as they have been set in law by the American people and its elected officials. The First Amendment is not a suicide pact.

Scott Johnson invokes Lincoln:

Lincoln feared the “mobocratic spirt” at large across the country in the hands of ignorant men who took justice into their own hands and committed violent outrages. Today the same “mobocratic spirit” can be seen in the hands of the smug sophisticates at the Times and elsewhere who share this in common with the mobs of Lincoln’s day: “the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice.”

Noel Sheppard on prosecuting the Times:

[I]t is high time the U.S. government took a stand against the reporting of classified intelligence information by America’s press. Irrespective of the self-serving opinions of Bill Keller and his associates, the public’s interest in safety and national defense is much greater than its desire to know the intricate details of how the government achieves such vital goals.

This is particularly true during a time of war when the program at issue has absolutely no impact on any citizen within America’s borders, is not violating domestic or international laws, and has no Geneva Convention component.

With that in mind, the Justice Department, led by attorney general Alberto Gonzales, must investigate and decide whether or not to prosecute the Times for its possibly treasonous acts. To be sure, the Times is cynically counting on such an eventuality not coming to fruition due to the government’s fear that during this process, it would be compelled to reveal details about the SWIFT program that might further compromise its viability.

This was certainly the case with terrorist surveillance when such revelations would have been tremendously detrimental to national security beyond what was despicably reported in December. Almost unquestionably, the Times and its attorneys counted on this.

However, in this instance, the damage to this program has probably been done, and despite the terrorists now having knowledge concerning this matter, they have limited alternatives to move large sums of money electronically. As such, whatever else might emerge during testimony and discovery shouldn’t so compromise the program that it would be rendered less useful than it already has been.

The upside, though, is that other counterterrorism programs either currently in existence or to be implemented at a later date would more likely remain confidential if news organizations such as the Times were suddenly concerned with federal prosecution for revealing national security secrets in the future. Given this, even if the SWIFT strategy was indeed further compromised by a legal action against the Times, it likely would be worth sacrificing what is left of the program for the benefit of other more important espionage activities now and in years to come.

Moreover, putting Risen, Lichtblau, and Keller in jail brings with it the ancillary benefit of encouraging other journalists and editors to find more socially beneficial ways to win a Pulitzer Prize.

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