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Follow-up questions for Byron Calame and the Times’ Bush-bashing allies

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By Michelle Malkin  •  October 23, 2006 10:00 AM

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Byron Calame: NYTimes’ lapdog tucks tail

I am sure that the New York Times public editor, Byron Calame, is hoping we will all go away now.

Fat chance.

Three months after defending his paper’s decision to blow the cover of a top-secret terrorist banking data surveillance program, he issued a weasel-worded retraction yesterday in his Sunday column.

You may have missed it–and who could blame you? It was buried in a column titled “Can ‘Magazines’ of The Times Subsidize News Coverage?” As reader Mike Z. commented:

Just think how many people probably read this “apology” in print! To do so, they would have had to have been interested in a piece by Calame entitled “Can ‘Magazines’ of the Times Subsidize News Coverage?” Then they would have had to read 15 paragraphs of that particular snooze-fest. And then they would have had to have been enticed to read still more Calame drivel by the obfuscatory sub-headline, “Banking Data – A Mea Culpa.”

…I’m a political junkie and if I had read those words in print I would have assumed the text that followed was going to be some boring crap about our nation’s banking system. I estimate the number of print readers who read Calame’s “apology” at, approximately, his mother.

My first response to Calame’s bombshell admission yesterday is here.

Now, I have a follow-up question, which I have e-mailed to Mr. Calame. His e-mail address is public@nytimes.com. As I noted yesterday, Calame’s lame rationalization for his blindness is that the Bush administration engaged in “vicious” attacks on the Times:

I fear I allowed the vicious criticism of The Times by the Bush administration to trigger my instinctive affinity for the underdog and enduring faith in a free press — two traits that I warned readers about in my first column.

What, exactly, is Calame referring to when he criticizes “vicious criticism?” Yesterday, I hyperlinked a June 27, 2006 Washington Post story on the Bush administration’s response after the Times blabbed about the banking surveillance program. Let’s take a closer look:

President Bush offered an impassioned defense of his secret international banking surveillance program yesterday, calling it a legal and effective tool for hunting down terrorists and denouncing the media’s disclosure of it as a “disgraceful” act that does “great harm” to the nation.

The president used a White House appearance with supporters of troops in Iraq to lash out at newspapers that revealed the program, which has examined hundreds of thousands of private banking records from around the world. His remarks led off a broader White House assault later amplified by Vice President Cheney and Treasury Secretary John W. Snow.

“What we did was fully authorized under the law,” Bush said in an angry tone as he leaned forward in his chair and wagged his finger. “And the disclosure of this program is disgraceful. We’re at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America, and for people to leak that program, and for a newspaper to publish it, does great harm to the United States of America.”

Bush defended the program as lawful, which Calame now admits is true. From his column yesterday:

I haven’t found any evidence in the intervening months that the surveillance program was illegal under United States laws.

Bush called the disclosure disgraceful. Does Calame disagree? From his column yesterday:

My July 2 column strongly supported The Times’s decision to publish its June 23 article on a once-secret banking-data surveillance program. After pondering for several months, I have decided I was off base…

……The lack of appropriate oversight — to catch any abuses in the absence of media attention — was a key reason I originally supported publication. I think, however, that I gave it too much weight…

…In addition, I became embarrassed by the how-secret-is-it issue, although that isn’t a cause of my altered conclusion. My original support for the article rested heavily on the fact that so many people already knew about the program that serious terrorists also must have been aware of it. But critical, and clever, readers were quick to point to a contradiction: the Times article and headline had both emphasized that a “secret” program was being exposed. (If one sentence down in the article had acknowledged that a number of people were probably aware of the program, both the newsroom and I would have been better able to address that wave of criticism.)

I repeat: What, exactly, is Calame referring to when he cites “vicious” Bush administration attacks? Is he talking about Dick Cheney? Here’s what the vice president said back in June:

Vice President Dick Cheney on Friday vigorously defended a secret program that examines banking records of Americans and others in a vast international database, and harshly criticized the news media for disclosing an operation he said was legal and “absolutely essential” to fighting terrorism.

“What I find most disturbing about these stories is the fact that some of the news media take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programs, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people,” Mr. Cheney said, in impromptu remarks at a fund-raising luncheon for a Republican Congressional candidate in Chicago. “That offends me.”

Is that it?

Or perhaps Calame is talking about the vigorous and informed defense of the program by Stuart Levey, Under Secretary, Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, at the US Treasury Dept. Here’s what he said:

The benefits of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program have been incalculable. This program provides a unique and powerful tool that has enhanced our efforts to track terrorist networks and disrupt them. That is the opinion of experts familiar with this program, both in and out of the government, irrespective of political orientation. It is also the view of those closest to the data, who are in the best position to know. I have on my staff a group of intelligence analysts who spend their days in a secure room poring over information to unmask the key funders and facilitators of terrorist groups. If you spoke with them, they would point to this program as one of the most important and powerful tools they have to follow the money.

They value this program because it leads to results. The details remain classified, but the program has been instrumental in identifying and capturing terrorists and financiers and in rolling up a terrorist-supporting charity. The program played an important role in the investigation that eventually culminated in the capture of Hambali, Jemaah Islamiyya’s Operations Chief, who masterminded the 2002 Bali bombings. The program supplied a key piece of evidence that confirmed the identity of a major Iraqi terrorist facilitator and financier. Because we were able to make this data available to an ally, this facilitator remains in custody. But the program has also proven its worth in many less dramatic, but equally significant ways. Anyone who has tried to piece together a complex terrorism investigation over months or years of sweat and dead-ends knows how important it can be to uncover a previously unknown link or fact. This program generates just such connections and leads nearly every day, which are then disseminated to counter-terrorism experts in intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

In short, the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program has been powerful and successful, grounded in law and bounded by safeguards. It represents exactly what I believe our citizens expect and hope we are doing to prosecute the war on terror.

Much has been said and written about the newspapers’ decision to publish information about this program. As a government official, I must first point out that the newspapers almost certainly would not have known about this program if someone had not violated his or her duty to protect this secret.

At the same time, I do very much regret the newspapers’ decision to publish what they knew. Secretary Snow and I, as well as others both inside and outside the government, made repeated, painstaking efforts to convince them otherwise. We urged that the story be held for one reason only: revealing it would undermine one of our most valuable tools for tracking terrorists’ money trails. We were authorized to set these arguments out for the relevant reporters and editors in an effort to convince them not to publish. In a series of sober and detailed meetings over several weeks, we carefully explained the program’s importance as well as its legal basis and controls. We strongly urged them not to reveal the source of our information and explained that disclosure would unavoidably compromise this vital program.

These were not attempts to keep an embarrassing secret from emerging. As should be clear from my testimony above, I am extremely proud of this program. I am proud of the officials and lawyers in our government whose labors ensured that the program was constructed and maintained in the most careful way possible. And I am proud of the intelligence analysts across our government who have used this information responsibly to advance investigations of terrorist groups and to make our country safer. I asked the press to withhold the story because I believed – and continue to believe – that the public interest would have been best served had this program remained secret and therefore effective.

Is that the kind of “vicious criticism” that caused you to so blindly defend the Times, Mr. Calame?

If anything was vicious, it was the unhinged attacks from Democrats–attacks that were both false and disgraceful. Where’s the apology, for example, from Rep. Ed Markey:

Critics said Bush was trying to divert attention from his own actions. Bush, Cheney and other Republicans “have adopted a shoot-the-messenger strategy by attacking the newspaper that revealed the existence of the secret bank surveillance program rather than answering the disturbing questions that those reports raise about possible violations of the U.S. Constitution and U.S. privacy laws,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).

Where’s the apology from Calame’s boss, Bill Keller, or LA Times editor, Dean Baquet, who justified their disclosure of the SWIFT program in a joint op-ed that cited bogus “questions about its legal basis and the issues of oversight?” (I remind you that Baquet conceded in an interview with Hugh Hewitt that his decision to expose SWIFT alongside the NYTimes may have aided terrorists and damaged counterterrorism efforts.)

Where’s the apology from the ACLU, which viciously blasted the Bush administration the day the Times story appeared:

The revelation of the CIA’s financial spying program is another example of the Bush administration’s abuse of power. The invasion of our personal financial information, without notification or judicial review, is contrary to the fundamental American value of privacy and must be stopped now. It seems the administration feels entitled to flip through all of our checkbooks. How many other secret spying programs has the Bush administration enacted without Congress, the courts or the public knowing? We need a full accounting of what information has been demanded by the U.S. government, how they have used it, with whom it was shared, and how they intend to repair this grave breach of trust. This program is a glaring example of how this government thinks nothing of widespread abuse of power.

The government contends that the program is legal since Swift is ultimately a messaging service and not a bank, exempting it from U.S. banking laws. However, Swift is established and owned by banks to assist directly in banking activities. Swift is subject to both U.S. and European law, and it is wrong for the U.S. to demand information without following the established channels.

Once again, this administration has performed an end-run around the legislature, allowing for no Congressional approval or oversight, and violating the freedoms Americans falsely believed they could take for granted. Congress should call them to account.

Blaming the White House ain’t gonna cut it, Mr. Calame. If you’re going to write a mea culpa, write a mea culpa.

Haven’t the front-page Busha culpas embarrassed your newspaper enough?

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