The New York Times Changes its Mind

The New York Times position, as of June, 22, 2006, on the Government’s (not the administration’s) efforts to track the funding of terrorist related financing through international banking records is here.


Under a secret Bush administration program initiated weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, counterterrorism officials have gained access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the United States, according to government and industry officials.

The program is limited, government officials say, to tracing transactions of people suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda by reviewing records from the nerve center of the global banking industry, a Belgian cooperative that routes about $6 trillion daily between banks, brokerages, stock exchanges and other institutions. The records mostly involve wire transfers and other methods of moving money overseas and into and out of the United States. Most routine financial transactions confined to this country are not in the database.

Viewed by the Bush administration as a vital tool, the program has played a hidden role in domestic and foreign terrorism investigations since 2001 and helped in the capture of the most wanted Qaeda figure in Southeast Asia, the officials said.

The Bush administration has made no secret of its campaign to disrupt terrorist financing, and President Bush, Treasury officials and others have spoken publicly about those efforts. Administration officials, however, asked The New York Times not to publish this article, saying that disclosure of the Swift program could jeopardize its effectiveness. They also enlisted several current and former officials, both Democrat and Republican, to vouch for its value.

Bill Keller, the newspaper’s executive editor, said: "We have listened closely to the administration’s arguments for withholding this information, and given them the most serious and respectful consideration. 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."

The New York Times’ position as of September 24, 2001, excerpted:

Organizing the hijacking of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon took significant sums of money. The cost of these plots suggests that putting Osama bin Laden and other international terrorists out of business will require more than diplomatic coalitions and military action. Washington and its allies must also disable the financial networks used by terrorists.
The Bush administration is preparing new laws to help track terrorists through their money-laundering activity and is readying an executive order freezing the assets of known terrorists. Much more is needed, including stricter regulations, the recruitment of specialized investigators and greater cooperation with foreign banking authorities. There must also must be closer coordination among America’s law enforcement, national security and financial regulatory agencies.

Osama bin Laden originally rose to prominence because his inherited fortune allowed him to bankroll Arab volunteers fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Since then, he has acquired funds from a panoply of Islamic charities and illegal and legal businesses, including export-import and commodity trading firms, and is estimated to have as much as $300 million at his disposal.

Some of these businesses move funds through major commercial banks that lack the procedures to monitor such transactions properly. Locally, terrorists can utilize tiny unregulated storefront financial centers, including what are known as hawala banks, which people in South Asian immigrant communities in the United States and other Western countries use to transfer money abroad. Though some smaller financial transactions are likely to slip through undetected even after new rules are in place, much of the financing needed for major attacks could dry up.

Agricola asks, what has changed in the nearly 5 years since the NYT staked out its original position, which, to us, seemed eminently reasonable and entirely proper?  Dare we think that political goals of the NYT and its ownership trump the nation’s war with global terrorism?  Could a media giant be willing to sacrifice victory, in what is arguably our nation’s most important struggle in its history, to help the opposition party gain control of the White House and Congress?  Have our citizens sunk to such a level?

H/T Michelle Malkin

Update: H/T also to Captain Ed


2 thoughts on “The New York Times Changes its Mind

  1. Kit Peters

    It should be noted that this financial monitoring program is not, nor has it ever been, particularly secr et.


    I will mention some relevant points the article makes here.

    1) President Bush himself signed an executive order in September 2001 calling for new tools to track the financial activities of terrorist organizations.

    2) The U.S. and the U.N. have “[bragged]” about how well they’ve been able to track terrorist financing for the last four years.

    3) It’s no great intellectual leap to suspect that the U.S. would track the financial activities of terrorists.

    Now I will not absolve the NYT of attempting to sensationalize this story in order to capitalize on anti-Bush sentiment. It seems perfectly reasonable to assume that they have done so. But they have leaked no classified information in this matter. They have not shattered our hopes of victory. They have committed no treasonous act.

  2. Agricola

    I’ll stipulate the correctness of all points made in your comment except for the leaking of classified information. Of course the President and others in the current administration have made known the use of financial records to track terrorist funds. How else would it be done? What is critical is that the NYT chose to disclose the tools used in that process, and, in so doing, revealed that other countries were sharing that information. And now we see the predictable result: Ireland, Belgium, Canada have now issued public objections to what was once private compliance. The NYT didn’t have to publish that information; that it did graphically illustrates its callous disregard for our war effort. It was a gratuitous leak, serving no purpose other than to reveal operational details of a classified prograrm; the sole purpose of which is to hamper our ability to wage war. If that is not treason, it is at least collaboration…….


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