In response to widespread public outrage at its decision to publish details of the government's Terrorist Financial Tracking Program, the New York Times' editor Bill Keller and reporter Eric Lichtblau have tried to defend themselves by pointing out that the program wasn't really secret at all and the terrorists already knew everything about it.
Well, it turns out that a TimesSelect membership can be worthwhile, because you can dig through the Times archives and come up with beauties like this:
The administration has made cutting off money to terrorists one of the main prongs in its attack against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. It has seized tens of millions of dollars in American accounts and assets linked to terrorist groups, prodded other countries to do the same, and is now developing a program to gain access to and track potentially hundreds of millions of international bank transfers into the United States.
But experts in the field say the results have been spotty, with few clear dents in Al Qaeda's ability to move money and finance terrorist attacks. The Congressional report-- a follow-up to a 2003 report that offered a similarly bleak assessment -- buttresses those concerns.
Senator Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who leads the Senate Finance Committee and was one of the lawmakers who requested the study, said he was disappointed to learn that in an area as critical as countering terrorist financing, ''they haven't gotten very far yet.''
In an interview, Mr. Grassley said: ''It's as simple as learning to stop the infighting and turf protection and get on with the job. What's happening is just inexplicable in light of the war on terrorism.''
So, the Bush administration was doing a crummy job of tracking terrorist finances. But obviously this reporter and all of the sources for the story were woefully misinformed and out of touch, after all, everybody knew about the SWIFT program ... right? Well, not exactly, because the reporter for the previously quoted article is a guy named Lichtblau and the paper was the New York Times. Will we be seeing a belated correction attached to the article headlined "U.S. Lacks Strategy to Curb Terror Funds"?
The Powerline guys nail it.
What can we conclude from this? Several things. First, neither Lichtblau, nor the GAO, nor Lichtblau's "experts" knew anything about the secret SWIFT tracking program. This renders the Times' current defense untenable.
Second, both GAO and Lichtblau were quick to criticize the government's overall anti-terrorist finance efforts when, in fact, they had information on only one minor aspect of those efforts. This is not surprising: the federal bureaucracy and the New York Times' staff both consist overwhelmingly of loyal Democrats.
Third, Lichtblau and his "experts" were ill-informed. Hambali, the most wanted terrorist in Southeast Asia and the architect of the Bali bombing, had been captured, with the aid of the SWIFT program, in August 2003. So readers who relied on the Times and Lichtblau's "experts" for information on how the administration was doing in fighting al Qaeda were misinformed.
Fourth, Lichtblau's current reporting is deeply dishonest. His statements to the effect that everyone knew about the SWIFT program are obviously false; neither he, his "experts" nor the GAO apparently were aware of it. Further, if Lichtblau were a reporter with integrity, his most recent story would have begun with an acknowledgement of his own prior, inaccurate reporting. An appropriate headline might have been: "We had it wrong: Bush administration doing great job in tracking terrorist financing." Don't hold your breath.
Finally, this episode casts light on the broader relationship between the Bush administration and the press. Here, the administration endured unjust, uninformed criticism first from the GAO, then, echoed and amplified, from the press. It must have been tempting, and surely would have been politically helpful, for the administration to leak the existence of the SWIFT program and the fact that its anti-terror financing programs have been successful--have, in fact, contributed to the capture of one of the world's most wanted terrorists. But the administration didn't do that. The administration endured unjust criticism and political damage rather than expose a program that was important to the nation's defense. How sad that Bill Keller and Eric Lichtblau didn't learn from President Bush's example.
Frankly, the Times' behavior and the holier-than-thou defense of it by just about every mainstream journalist is deeply disappointing to someone like me who realizes that we're in a war and actually wants the U.S. to win it.
When people ask, I no longer want to say I'm a journalist. I'll suggest I do something a little more noble, productive and responsible...
I'll tell them I'm an Amway salesman.