The New York Times' executive editor Bill Keller told CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday morning:
"[p]ublished reports that the U.S. was monitoring international banking transactions were not news to the terrorists who were its target because the Bush Administration had already "talked openly" about the effort.Last week, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and several other newspapers (and blogs) "revealed" that the White House was tracking terrorist-related financial transactions in the international banking system called SWIFT. These entities have been criticized for disclosing "secret" operations meant to nix terror plots and activities.
"I don't think the threshold test of whether you write about how the government is waging the war on terror is whether they've done something that's blatantly illegal or outrageous," Keller said. "I think you probably would like to know what they're doing that's successful as well."
President Bush said the latest revelation was "disgraceful" and did "great harm" to the country. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, reiterated his view on CNN's Sunday "Late Edition" that The New York Times should be prosecuted persuant to the 1917 Espionage Act (read the pdf - it's only four short pages) for continuously disclosing classified information.
But, was the information really as classified or secret as the President and the Administration claim? Is Bill Keller right in saying the terrorists already knew (or at least, could have known) about the financial counterterror operations?
The answer to the first question, I must conclude is NO. Neither the information, nor the operation were secret, though they may have been classified as secret. Though it can't be known with certainty, Bill Keller is probably right that the bad guys knew about the programs and opertaions or could have known. It was easy enough me to find out. The Bush Administration announced the program and plans when President Bush signed Executive Order 13224 on September 23, 2001. The E.O. was distributed to the media as a Fact Sheet from the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Washington, D.C., December 20, 2002.
In fact, the information is available from the White House website under Homeland Security. Scroll to the bottom of the page to find this reference paragraph:
Cracking Down On Terrorist Financing With Our International Partners. Over 400 individuals and entities have been designated pursuant to Executive Order 13224, resulting in nearly $150 million in frozen assets and millions more blocked in transit or seized at borders. We have built an international coalition that is applying more rigorous financial standards and controls to help prevent terrorists' use of the international financial system. Specifically, we have established with the Government of Saudi Arabia a Joint Task Force on Terrorism Finance that serves as a coordinating mechanism to cooperate on important terrorism-financing investigations.As much as I would like to see the scoundrels at the TIMES prosecuted, found guilty, and put away for a very long time (only because we can't hang people anymore), I'm afraid nothing can be done. I do not think for one minute the public accessibility of the information exonerates Bill Keller, the NY and LA TIMES, and anyone else involved in the decision to publish. It may be doubtful the terrorists actually take the time or make the effort to access the White House website to find obscure information thereby learning details of programs better left concealed, it is neither excuse, nor valid reason to make that knowledge generally known. Maybe they do visit the White House website regularly, but that doesn't mean anyone ostensibly on our side should make it easy to find information that can be exploited to kill and maim innocent civilians or uniformed service members. Simply, it just isn't right.
Whether the actions taken by the media members were right or wrong, legal or illegal, righteouos or morally repugnant, all the information was and still is, in fact, in the public domain and was put there by the very government that is now protesting the public disclosure of that information. Publically held secrets do not remain secret for long in a society that values a free press and an enlightened electorate. If the government wants secrets to remain so, then the government should not publish their existence in the first place.
The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.