Scott Shane of the Times manages to present both sides of the debate in evaluating whether the Times disclosure of the SWIFT monitoring program may have harmed national security.
He opens with the argument we tackled in an earlier post, reminding us that "follow the money" had been a public goal of the Administration since 9/11:
Ever since President Bush vowed days after the Sept. 11 attacks to "follow the money as a trail to the terrorists," the government has made no secret of its efforts to hunt down the bank accounts of Al Qaeda and its allies.
However, by paragraph eight he pivots to the point we were emphasizing (and which Administration officials had emphasized to Times Executive Editor Bill Keller) - publicity might make it difficult for Europeans to continue to cooperate:
Experts on terror financing are divided in their views of the impact of the revelations. Some say the harm in last week's publications in The Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal may have been less in tipping off terrorists than in putting publicity-shy bankers in an uncomfortable spotlight.
"I would be surprised if terrorists didn't know that we were doing everything we can to track their financial transactions, since the administration has been very vocal about that fact," said William F. Wechsler, a former Treasury and National Security Council official who specialized in tracking terrorism financing.
But Mr. Wechsler said the disclosure might nonetheless hamper intelligence collection by making financial institutions resistant to requests for access to records.
"I wouldn't be surprised if these recent articles have made it more difficult to get cooperation from our friends in Europe, since it may make their cooperation with the U.S. less politically palatable," Mr. Wechsler said.
Though privacy advocates have denounced the examination of banking transactions, the Swift consortium has defended its cooperation with the counterterrorism program and has not indicated any intention to stop cooperating with the broad administrative subpoenas issued to obtain its data.
Andy McCarthy is quoted offering a different take:
A former federal prosecutor who handled major terrorism cases, Andrew C. McCarthy, said he believed that the greatest harm from news reports about such classified programs was the message that Americans could not keep secrets.
"If foreign intelligence services think anything they tell us will end up in the newspapers, they'll stop sharing so much information," said Mr. McCarthy, now a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington.
And Bob Kerrey of the New School and the 9/11 Commission is offered making a back-door plea to keep the program alive:
But Bob Kerrey, a member of the 9/11 commission and former Democratic senator from Nebraska, took a different view, saying that if the news reports drive terrorists out of the banking system, that could actually help the counterterrorism cause.
"If we tell people who are potential criminals that we have a lot of police on the beat, that's a substantial deterrent," said Mr. Kerrey, now president of New School University. If terrorists decide it is too risky to move money through official channels, "that's very good, because it's much, much harder to move money in other ways," Mr. Kerrey said.
The Times reporting is clear - this is a good program; ending it would harm national security; publicity may kill it.
This was a much better effort by the Times than was produced by yesterday's Clownhouse Group led by Glenn Greenwald. Let's reprint his challenge:
That is why not a single person who ever sermonizes righteously about the traitors at the Times can ever identify what ought to be the first fact that is identified when accusing someone of harming national security -- namely, the disclosure of facts which (a) would enable the terrorists to avoid surveillance detection and (b) was not previously known. Those facts simply do not exist, which is why nobody ever identifies them.
And for more flavor, let's reprint his bold assertion from Tuesday, when he first warmed to this theme (his emphasis):
(1) There is not a single sentence in the Times banking report that could even arguably "help the terrorists."
It appears that Scott Shane, Bob Kerrey and others managed to find that single sentence. Arguably.
WORTH MOCKING SOMEWHERE: Bob Novak had one chat with a CIA press flack, concluded the guy's heart was not in it, and published his column outing Valerie Plame. He has been criticized for not acceding instantly and unquestioningly to the CIA request.
The Times met with and heard from numerous Administration officials over a period of weeks. They decided that some of the Administration arguments were "half-hearted", and proceeded to publish.
Let's see - is it fair to point out that Bob Novak may have had a point when he said that the CIA did not push too hard? Here is Novak from Oct 2003; CIA press spokesperson Bill Harlow from the WaPo, July 27, 2005; and Novak responds. My thoughts here.