Bill Keller: No, I’m The Decider

Despite requests from the Bush administration not to publish the story, The New York Times has taken it upon itself to declassify yet another classified anti-terror program. Commenting on the story, NYT editor Bill Keller said that after “serious and respectful consideration” he decided that it was in the “public interest” for this terrorist financial tracking program to be revealed. I don’t know about you, but as a member of the “public,” I feel so much safer now:

Under a secret Bush administration program initiated weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, counterterrorism officials have gained access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the United States, according to government and industry officials.

The program is limited, government officials say, to tracing transactions of people suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda by reviewing records from the nerve center of the global banking industry, a Belgian cooperative that routes about $6 trillion daily between banks, brokerages, stock exchanges and other institutions. The records mostly involve wire transfers and other methods of moving money overseas and into and out of the United States. Most routine financial transactions confined to this country are not in the database.

Viewed by the Bush administration as a vital tool, the program has played a hidden role in domestic and foreign terrorism investigations since 2001 and helped in the capture of the most wanted Qaeda figure in Southeast Asia, the officials said.

The program, run out of the Central Intelligence Agency and overseen by the Treasury Department, “has provided us with a unique and powerful window into the operations of terrorist networks and is, without doubt, a legal and proper use of our authorities,” Stuart Levey, an under secretary at the Treasury Department, said in an interview on Thursday.

The program is grounded in part on the president’s emergency economic powers, Mr. Levey said, and multiple safeguards have been imposed to protect against any unwarranted searches of Americans’ records.

The program, however, is a significant departure from typical practice in how the government acquires Americans’ financial records. Treasury officials did not seek individual court-approved warrants or subpoenas to examine specific transactions, instead relying on broad administrative subpoenas for millions of records from the cooperative, known as Swift. (my emphasis)

What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Another day, another vital counterterrorism program leaked. All that’s left is for the disingenuous breathlessness of the Democrats to commence.

UPDATE (James Joyner): Fausta Wertz finds it curious NYT essentially ignored this week’s story of the finding of hundreds of WMD shells yet is hyping this one.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Terrorism, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , ,
Greg Tinti
About Greg Tinti
Greg started the blog The Political Pit Bull in August 2005. He was OTB's Breaking News Editor from June through August 2006 before deciding to return to his own blog. His blogging career eventually ended altogether. He has a B.A. in Anthropology from The George Washington University,


  1. The only way I can see that the NY Times can justify the continuing attacks on this nations defenders is if they believe that there really isn’t a terrorist threat at all, but only a nefarious intent to destroy our civil liberties by a power mad government.

    I’ve never really believed the old saying that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” for a number of reasons but I do firmly believe that “the friend of my enemy is my enemy.”

  2. Anderson says:

    (1) Gov’t breaks laws.

    (2) Gov’t classifies as secret its breaking of laws.

    (3) Gov’t can now break laws with impunity.

    I really don’t see how any “conservative,” which I take to mean (inter alia) someone with a healthy mistrust of gov’t and a strong belief in limiting its powers, can be happy with (1)-(3).

    More evidence that there are few conservatives left any more, only worshippers of executive power.

    (I’d also note that Ron Suskind’s new book describes similar goings-on, tho not with Swift, to the point I’ve read up to.)

  3. Fersboo says:


    So this ‘news story’ details criminal activity on the part of the US Government? Does your ass hurt from having your noggin crammed up it all day?

  4. jim says:

    I find much in this deal to be criminal but almost none of it having to do with this government operation. Iâ??m really sorry that the only danger you see in your life is George Bush.

  5. McGehee says:

    (1) Gov�t breaks laws.

    Um, doesn’t the NYT itself concede that the program is legal?

    How do these things work on your planet, Anderson?

  6. madmatt says:

    Of course most muslims do not believe in usury so they don’t use banks, they use intermediaries to transfer money around the world….thats why the bushies are always going on about financiers and money men, not banks.

  7. Fersboo says:

    No Matt, they don’t use banks because they are AFRAID that those funds will be frozen. That is why they continue to use suitcases.

  8. “All thatâ??s left is for the disingenuous breathlessness of the Democrats to commence. ”

    Greg, you forgot the part that follows the breathlessness. A poll comes out and find Americans overwhelmingly support the measure (at least when the polling question provides any sort of detail on it) and the democrats go quiet on the subject.

    To Anderson et al, please explain how this program is illegal. Also, please contrast this sort of program with the Clinton Echelon program (is one illegal and the other not, both illegal or both legal).

  9. Anderson says:

    Um, doesnâ??t the NYT itself concede that the program is legal?

    Really? In the article? Where in the article?

    Swift executives have been uneasy at times about their secret role, the government and industry officials said. By 2003, the executives told American officials they were considering pulling out of the arrangement, which began as an emergency response to the Sept. 11 attacks, the officials said. Worried about potential legal liability, the Swift executives agreed to continue providing the data only after top officials, including Alan Greenspan, then chairman of the Federal Reserve, intervened. At that time, new controls were introduced. * * *

    at the outset of the operation, Treasury and Justice Department lawyers debated whether the program had to comply with such laws before concluding that it did not, people with knowledge of the debate said. Several outside banking experts, however, say that financial privacy laws are murky and sometimes contradictory and that the program raises difficult legal and public policy questions.

    (I’m reading the Earth edition of the NYT, by the way. Is that part of the problem, McGehee? What does *your* version say?)

    It’s a hoot, admittedly, to read about the President’s “emergency economic powers.” Article II! It slices! It dices! Can he also balance the budget with those emergency powers?

    Bottom line: if the program is SO secret and SO vitally important to conceal, then go after the S.O.B.’s who leaked the info … not the newspaper that printed what they said.

    If the feds won’t do that, then they’re not terribly serious about the secrecy, are they?

  10. Anderson says:

    Oh, I left out the best part: because this program is so secret, Stuart Levey, Treasury undersecretary, decided to go ahead & talk about it once the NYT said it was printing the story.

    Whatever happened to “No comment”?

  11. Fersboo says:

    From the NYSlimes article:

    Treasury officials said Swift was exempt from American laws restricting government access to private financial records because the cooperative was considered a messaging service, not a bank or financial institution.

    Anderson, go and ask your alma mater for a refund.

  12. Andy Vance says:

    Fersboo, I’ll speak very slowly so you can understand.

    The Right to Financial Privacy Act prohibits the government from sifting through your financial records without a warrant.

    The administration is making the ludicrous, ex post facto ass-covering argument that if the information is obtained from a third party – not you or your bank – they don’t need a warrant.

    In other words, the administration is claiming that the intent of the law wasn’t to restrict access to the information, but simply to address how the information is obtained.

    That’s like saying that I can steal your money as long as I don’t pick your pocket.

  13. Fersboo says:

    Andy, crawl back under your woodpile:

    Again, from the NYSlimes article:

    Treasury officials did not seek individual court-approved warrants or subpoenas to examine specific transactions, instead relying on broad administrative subpoenas for millions of records from the cooperative, known as Swift.

    Using what officials described as individual, narrowly framed subpoenas and warrants, the F.B.I. has obtained records from First Data, which processes credit and debit card transactions, to track financial activity and try to locate suspects.

    For many years, law enforcement officials have relied on grand-jury subpoenas or court-approved warrants for such financial data. Since 9/11, the F.B.I. has turned more frequently to an administrative subpoena, known as a national security letter, to demand such records.

  14. Anderson says:

    Shorter Fersboo: the feds say they’re not doing anything wrong, so they’re not doing anything wrong.

    This, from someone who tries to mock other people’s intelligence?

    How embarrassing.

  15. Andy Vance says:

    Fersboo, put down the crack pipe.

    The law says that 1) the government must have probable cause for obtaining the information and 2)the government must “reasonably describe” the specific records being obtained 2) citizens have the right to examine all disclosures of their records.

    A “broad administrative subpoenas for millions of records” – i.e. “give us ongoing access to all records for out secret program” – is precisely the opposite of that, and therefore against the law. The program is not legal just because the administration says it is.

    By the way, Doug Henning is lying to you. It’s a trick. I know it’s hard to believe, but he really doesn’t make all those things disappear.

  16. ken says:

    If I had to chose between a press that printed things the government wanted secret and a press that withheld information from me every time the government claimed it was a matter of national security I would take my chances with the free press every time.

    But that is what makes me an American.

    Now some people would be willing to trade in my liberty in order to strengthen the hand of the madman in the whitehouse. I understand these people, their kind exists in every part of the globe, including here. We have seen the results of their cowardice however in the loss of freedoms and the growth of tyranical governments wherever their kind win the battle against liberty.

    So kudos to the free press. I often have disagreementw with what they print but I will always defend their right to print it.

  17. Fersboo says:

    Okay chuckleheads, try to keep up. It helps if you take your head out of your ass for a bit.

    Andrew McCarthy has a nice little write-up on this.

    Sixth paragraph:

    The effort, which the government calls the �Terrorist Finance Tracking Program� (TFTP), is entirely legal. There are no conceivable constitutional violations involved. The Supreme Court held in United States v. Miller (1976) that there is no right to privacy in financial-transaction information maintained by third parties. Here, moreover, the focus is narrowed to suspected international terrorists, not Americans, and the financial transactions implicated are international, not domestic. This is not data mining, and it does not involve fishing expeditions into the financial affairs of American citizens. Indeed, few Americans even have information that is captured by the program � though there would be nothing legally offensive even if they did.

  18. Others might also want to take a look here as well. The President isn’t asserting an Article 2 power, he’s using existing legislation to do this.

  19. Ugh says:

    Fersboo- I’ll admit I haven’t read McCarthy’s aricle, but from what you quote it doesn’t appear he knows what he’s talking about.

    He says:

    The effort … is entirely legal. There are no conceivable constitutional violations involved.

    There’s nothing in the constitution that says I can’t steal your car either, but somehow I get the feeling that’s illega.

  20. Fersboo says:


    Can’t read the bold typeface? Let me write it again.

    The Supreme Court held in United States v. Miller (1976) that there is no right to privacy in financial-transaction information maintained by third parties.

    If the USSC of 1976 says it is legal, then the USSC must be part of the VRWC.

  21. Herb says:


    You are wasting your time trying to get anything across to Anderson. Like you stated in your first comment, Anderson has his head “Up and Locked”. The problem is Anderson forgot where the “unlock button” is located.

    The “Hate Bush” crowd and the loony left will whine and cry about “their right to privacy” when actually, they have never come close to having those rights violated. Anderson is more vulnerable to his rights being violated by his activity on his own computer, yet he says nothing about that, He is a whiner and crybaby that just can’t get over the fact that his loony buddies lost in 2000 and 2004. The net result is and has been a “Hate Bush” attitude has taken over whatever common sense and brain power he had.

    Anderson is one who would rather see another 3000 Americans killed in a terrorist attack just to justify his “Hate Bush” thinking.

    I think that makes Anderson a danger to all society and a traitor to “The American way of Life”

  22. Anderson says:

    Taking a break from my treasonous way of life to note the update:

    Fausta Wertz finds it curious NYT essentially ignored this weekâ??s story of the finding of hundreds of WMD shells yet is hyping this one.

    Maybe because they know “news” when they see it? I seem to recall a few previous stories of finding abandoned gas shells, etc. in the desert, & the usual suspects’ crying out “eureka! the WMD!”

    In this case, with the Pentagon’s own spokescreature saying “These aren’t the WMD we were looking for,” it’s hard to make anything of the story besides Santorum’s desperation not to lose his election.

    Back to the NYT story: whether the program’s useful or not, legal or not, the bottom line remains: why are y’all fussing at the Times? (The WSJ’s own role, for that matter, seems to be neglected, for obvious reasons.) Catch the leakers and bust *them*.

    Until I see that done, I have to conclude that this story is all about the White House trying to garner support by pointing fingers at the Bad Old Media. To repeat, SECRET programs are not discussed by Treasury officials and the Vice-President, whether a story has broken or not.

    Had the gov’t response been “hey, who can believe what the Times prints,” Herb & sundry would be vigorously denying the existence of the program. (Al Qaeda would know better, but then, according to Suskind, they’ve been wary of having transactions traced since 2003. Which may be why this story’s been leaked—the officials feel the program’s not doing much good any more?)

    Now, back to my treason … gotta pick out the uniforms I want to wear for my assault on Death Valley, so I can tell the nice Qaeda agent when he comes to take my order.