Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Bush and Cheney Assault the Gray Lady

As of late Monday, young Mister Bush, Dick Cheney and White House Press Secretary Tony Snow had pilloried the "liberal media" for revealing the existence of the Treasury Department/CIA covert monitoring of the SWIFT monetary transfer system.

The administration's anointed echo chamberlains were swift to pick their drumsticks. This from a National Review Online editorial titled "Stop the Leaks."

Every passing week, it becomes more apparent that disgruntled leftists in the intelligence community and antiwar crusaders in the mainstream media, annealed in their disdain for the Bush administration, are undermining our ability to win the War on Terror. Their latest body blow to the war effort is the exposure, principally by the New York Times, of the Treasury Department’s top-secret program to monitor terror funding.

It's pretty funny how anybody who objects to government intrusion on privacy is a disgruntled leftist or an antiwar crusader, and how any effort to check the power rapacious Bush administration is a "body blow to the war effort."

But this NRO vituperative gets even funnier.
President Bush…must demand that the New York Times pay a price for its costly, arrogant defiance. The administration should withdraw the newspaper’s White House press credentials because this privilege has been so egregiously abused, and an aggressive investigation should be undertaken to identify and prosecute, at a minimum, the government officials who have leaked national-defense information.

I'll let the Ann Coulter-like style of this passage go for the time being and jump to its core absurdity. If the administration yanks the NYT's White House press credentials, how will it leak classified disinformation through the Gray Lady via the next Judith Miller?

Speaking absurdity and Ann Coulter, on Joe Scarborough's program last night she compared the Times to Jane Fonda sitting on a North Vietnamese tank. I love how these far right types use their freedom of speech to attack freedom of speech.

Here's where it all stops being funny.

House Homeland Security Chairman Pete King (R New York) wants Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to prosecute the New York Times for running the SWIFT story.

This is scary stuff, kids, because we're talking about a potential major league legal battle, and as deep as the Times' pockets may be, they're nowhere near as deep as the pockets of the United States Treasury.

Here's something else I don't find terribly funny. Cheney tells us that all the administration's secret monitoring programs are consistent with Mister Bush's constitutional authority. And a lot of people are willing to take his word for it.

I am not a scholar of constitutional law, but I've spent quite a bit of time studying the document. I know precisely where it guarantees freedom of speech and personal privacy (Amendments I and IV), but I have yet to find a single passage in the Constitution that discusses the government's right to keep secrets.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his weekday commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.

Also see Smoke, Mirrors and War Powers.


  1. Anyone with 2 functioning brain cells should know financial transfers are being closely monitored, especially in this post-9/11 world.

    This seems to be: 1) the White House making noise just for the sake of it (otherwise there might be bad news leaking through), and 2) taking the opportunity to lean on the NYT in particular, and the "liberal" news media by extension.

  2. Bingo, Jeff. Somebody somewhere said everybody knew about it but us in the US.

    Yeah, make cover noise and bash the media. SOP.

  3. And we even knew about it here, if you think back, because the government said a number of times after 9/11 that they were going to go after the financial networks of the terrorists. I assumed at the time that meant they had some system in place for monitoring.

    I'd have to see the details of the program to evaluate it Constitutionally, but it wouldn't surprise me if the admin by-passed Constitutional requirements. After all, the NSA wiretapping is clearly unconstitutional in my view, and they went ahead with it.

    As for prosecuting the NY Times, good luck. The 1st amendment is likely to bar any government prosecution on that score. They'll have an easier time going after the leakers, but I hesitate to throw the book at people leaking information out of the government. There are times when the government has a legitimate interest in keeping things secret, but there are also times when the government is doing things it shouldn't be doing under the Constitution (particularly with this admin) and we in the public rely on persons in the government with a conscience to leak this information and let us know what is going on. There has to be a balance between letting the government keep some legitimate secrets while allowing protections for people who leak things like the NSA wiretapping, this financial monitoring, etc. I'd rather not prosecute the leakers in either of the NSA or SWIFT cases.

    The administration thinks anything it wants to do under the guise of the war on terror is within its power, and they're completely untrustworthy to make those determinations. But a number of people are perfectly willing to let them do it. Heck, Bush is even up about 6 points according to the last three polls I heard (though still at an abysmal level). I don't think most Americans really care that much about the NSA/SWIFT issues, which is unfortunate. A refrain I heard repeatedly from people around here is "if you're not doing anything wrong, then you've got nothing to worry about."

    That's frightening.

  4. Yeah, Mus. Some secret.

  5. if a case agaist the NYT were to go to trial at all, it could possible have quite a chilling effect on the media. Even if the NYT wins, other media outlets could become afraid of being the next target and there goes the 1st amendment right out the window. Its a scary time in america for our basic rights & freedoms these days.

  6. Just the threat is scary enough. I mentioned about the NYT's pockets versus the Treasury's. But NYT has a lot of sway over public opinion which the treasury doesn't.

    Now if you're a smaller outlet with smaller pockets and smaller audience, do you want to put yourself in the crosshairs?

  7. Didn't the U.S. indict a newspaper in WWII?

    Merely bringing charges against the Times could have a chilling effect, no doubt. On the other hand, if the case went up through the courts and the Supreme Court gave us a clear opinion regarding the unconstitutionality of the government indictment it would also send a clear message to the press not to worry about government indictments in these cases.

  8. I was googling around about the SWIFT and similar programs and happened upon this Amazon.com page http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0767915623/103-7354394-7607039?v=glance&n=283155 Rather than pay too much attention to the open blurb, I went down, midway on the page and discovered this:

    From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com
    One of the first new laws the Bush administration promulgated following the Sept. 11 terror attacks was an executive order that made it easier to freeze the bank accounts of suspected terrorists and their supporters. By Nov. 7, more than $20 million had been seized in accounts allegedly linked to al Qaeda or its backers, and by March of this year, that figure had grown tenfold.

    The money quote, of course is in the first sentence. You can’t freeze accounts without covert financial analysis.

    Here’s a 9/11/2004 Salon article discussing the monitoring of hawala networks, which of course, are overt:


    This long and tedious but well-sourced essay about Saeed Sheikh, one of the principal financiers and money distributors of the 9/11 plot discloses a bit about how the covert financial were investigated.

    “Swift, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, provides electronic instructions for money transfers among some 7,800 financial institutions - virtually every bank, brokerage house, and stock exchange. It routes more than 11m transactions each day. The New York Times and LA Times said they had been pressed by administration officials not to report on the existence of the programme.”


    I wonder how many people work in 7,800 financial institutions? It’s a well-accepted fact of intelligence and counter-intelligence that a secret is effectively blown when three know about it.

  9. Anonymous5:07 PM

    The whole thing is ridiculous. As stated before, the information was already out there, it's nothing new. With freedom of press being attacked, how much longer until freedom of speech gets a reprimand. I can't help but think of 1984.

  10. But middle Americans won't know, they live in hobbit land and will think oh gosh and golly gee..them leftists liberal good for nothings are undermining the war on terror!
    As with anything, it's the ol' follow the money and as mentioned by my esteemed previous commenters, nothing new under the sun. I had a Hungarian friend who moved to the US shortly after I did ('98)(having lived in Canada for a good ten years prior) and she was always paranoid (?!) about being listened into when we'd talk on the phone. Things most likely happened before 9/11 as well so.. I have become distrustful all around..unfortunately

  11. Meribeth3:00 PM

    I look at this illegal spying a couple of ways.

    First, it is nothing new, as has already been mentioned.

    Second, does the government really do anything without totally giving it the FUBAR treatment?

    What does concern me is that they will (have?) use it as a political/economic/corporate weapon. Hence, taking away our freedoms in a revolution without having to fire a shot.

    Bush and his boys, have already made it perfectly clear that they have the arrogance and audacity to disreguard laws when they see fit.

  12. Anything they do is "legal."

    The most ridiculous part of this story is that, as I see it so far, the NYT didn't actually reveal anything that hadn't already been in the public domain for years. They just asked if it was legal.

    So they should be charged with treason for asking if something already known about is legal?

    That, perhaps, is the most frightening thing of all.

  13. I do hope Bill Keller is tried for treason. I guess you Moonbats are invulnerable, hey "Jo Fish" aka Jeff Huber? If the terrorists set off more bombs in New York they won't harm you guys because assholes are impervious to such things, right?

    So yes, undermine the war effort, give aid and comfort to the enemy.

    Ann Coulter was right: The Democratic Party IS "the Party of Treason" and it is past time to make some examples of you.

    As for you Jeff Jo Fish Huber, you are a disgrace to the uniform.