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June 23, 2006

"NATIONAL SECURITY? THAT'S FOR US TO DECIDE, BUB. We're newspapermen!"

A fresh barrage of criticism is erupting over the decision of The New York Times to disclose last night another classified surveillance program aimed at gathering information about terrorist plots.

"The president is concerned that, once again, the New York Times has chosen to expose a classified program that is protecting the American people," a White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said last night. "We know that terrorists look for any clue about the weapons we're using to fight them and now, with this exposure, they have more information and it increases the challenge for our law enforcement and intelligence officials."

The Times report, which appears in today's editions and was posted last evening on the paper's Web site, details the federal government's use of subpoenas to gather large troves of data from a Belgium-based consortium that handles international bank transfers, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, known as Swift.

But boy, if somebody steps on their scoops, they sure get mad. Some secrecy is sacred.

UPDATE: A big roundup of blog reaction on this, over at Pajamas Media.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Stephen Spruiell:

According to the NYT's own reporting, the program is legal. The program is helping us catch terrorists. The administration has briefed the appropriate members of Congress. The program has built-in safeguards to prevent abuse. And yet, with nothing more than a vague appeal to the "public interest" (which apparently is not outweighed in this case by the public's interest in apprehending terrorists), the NYT disregards all that and publishes intimate, classified details about the program. Keller and his team really do believe they are above the law. When it comes to national security, it isn't the government that should decide when secrecy is essential to a program's effectiveness. It is the New York Times.

National security be damned. There are Pulitzers to be won.

The press is much harder on other businesses that sacrifice the public interest for profits.

MORE: Ed Morrissey writes:

Excuse me, but no one voted to put Bill Keller in charge of our national security, and the laws covering classification of materials does not have an option for journalists to invalidate their clearance level. The continuing arrogance of Keller and his two reporters has damaged our national security, and in this case on a ridiculously laughable story that tells us absolutely nothing we didn't already know in concept. They keep pretending to offer news to their readers, but instead all they do is blow our national-security programs for profit.

The administration has told us on many occasions that one of the main fronts in the war on terror would be the financial systems. We have seen plenty of coverage on how the US has pressured various banking systems into revealing their records in order for us to freeze terrorist assets. If anyone wondered whether our efforts had any effect, all they needed to read was the stories of Hamas officials having to smuggle cash in valises in order to get spot funding for the Palestinian Authority. Their neighboring Arab nations pledged upwards of $150 million in direct aid, which banks would not transfer lest the US discover the transactions and lock them out of the global banking system.

Thanks to the Times for helping with that.

What's interesting to me is that when you talk about military force, we're supposed to use law-enforcement and intelligence methods instead. But if you use law-enforcement and intelligence methods, people shout "Big Brother" and the Times runs stories exposing them.

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