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June 27, 2006

Bush Defends Financial Surveillance Of Terrorists

President Bush offered a defense of a secret program to track terrorists after that secrecy was blown by journalists more concerned about headlines than national security.

"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 denied overstepping his bounds by not seeking court or congressional approval for the program in the nearly five years since it was established following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "What we were doing was the right thing," he said. "Congress was aware of it, and we were within the law to do so."

The program operated under the provisions of both the Patriot act and financial surveilance legislation signed by Jimmy Carter in 1977. Not even the Times has offered serious questions regarding its legality, but simply placed th "public's right to know" above the "public's right to safety".

That has not, however, stopped some Democrat extremists from engaging in irresponsible innuendo about the program.

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.).

Markey, who has served in Congress since 1976, voted in favor of both pieces of legislation that authorized this sort of surveillance.

Vice President Cheney offered a principled denunciation of the Times for its unprincipled actions.

"Some of the press, in particular the New York Times, have made the job of defending against further terrorist attacks more difficult by insisting on publishing detailed information about vital national security programs," Cheney said at a Republican fundraiser in Nebraska.

Referring to the NSA program, he added: "What is doubly disturbing for me is that not only have they gone forward with these stories, but they've been rewarded for it, for example, in the case of the terrorist surveillance program, by being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for outstanding journalism. I think that is a disgrace."

Each new national security blockbuster story has served to make America les safe, yet has resulted in professional accolades for the reporters involved. It ultimately boils down to a simple question -- does the right to freedom of the press carry with it a responsibility to exercise restraint in the interest of public safety? The Supreme Court once recognized the the publication of vital national security information could be limited by the government -- and in that case Rep Peter King's suggestion of investigation of the treasonous activities of the New York Times might be in order.

Interestingly enough, members of the media are not at all pleased that some might question their patriotism, motives, or right to publish sensitive secret data. I guess they don't feel that our right to free speech is nearly as important as their right to freedom of the press. I'm sure they were unhappy about Tony Snow's defense of the First Amendment which raised the need for the press to exercise restraint.

"It's not designed to have a chilling effect," White House press secretary Tony Snow said. "If the New York Times wants a spirited debate about it, it's got it. But certainly nobody is going to deny First Amendment rights. But the New York Times and other news organizations ought to think long and hard about whether a public's right to know, in some cases, might overwrite somebody's right to live."

Indeed, how many lives have and will be lost due to the publication decisions of the New York Times?

Captain Ed notes that this program is exactly in line with the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

Here's what the 9/11 Commission recommended (page 382):

Recommendation: Vigorous efforts to track terrorist financing must remain front and center in U.S. counterterrorism efforts.The government has recognized that information about terrorist money helps us to understand their networks, search them out, and disrupt their operations. Intelligence and law enforcement have targeted the relatively small number of financial facilitators—individuals al Qaeda relied on for their ability to raise and deliver money—at the core of al Qaeda’s revenue stream. These efforts have worked. The death or capture of several important facilitators has decreased the amount of money available to al Qaeda and has increased its costs and difficulty in raising and moving that money. Captures have additionally provided a windfall of intelligence that can be used to continue the cycle of disruption.

I wonder -- do Sulzberger, Keller, and the rest of the Times staff play poker with all cards face up?





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