by Austin Bay
June 28, 2006
Call it the Washington Beltway's "Axis of Abuse": irresponsible
reporters and editors collaborating with agenda-ed, unnamed "leakers."
The exposure of a legal and productive counter-terror
intelligence operation on the front page of the June 23 edition of The New
York Times is the latest abusive and dangerous example of this Beltway
hustle. "Leakers" in this particular case is too weak a term -- exposing the
finance-monitoring program amounts to spying for terrorists.
The New York Times acknowledged the program it exposed was
limited "to tracing transactions of people suspected of having ties to
al-Qaida by reviewing records from the nerve center of the global banking
industry ..." The paper also admitted these intelligence operations helped
nab al-Qaida's Southeast Asia terror kingpin, Hambali, the man who planned
the 2002 Bali massacre.
The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and The Wall St Journal
also published the story -- "me, too" popinjays after The New York Times
International bank records are fair game for intel teams
attempting to track terrorist finances and contacts. A tainted religious
mania propels al-Qaida's killers, but money fuels their operations, buys
their bombs and secures their safehouses. The 9-11 commission said
surveillance of terrorist financing was critical to stopping terrorist
attacks and destroying terrorist organizations.
So why expose this fruitful, legal operation? Why expose
necessary secrets that protect American lives?
The simple power to do it is one explanation -- and that's the
power of a bully. Add arrogance and greed, and we have a "most likely"
explanation. The New York Times obviously believes it can expose
intelligence secrets and pay no penalty. Hot stories sell newspapers. This
"revelation," however, is manufactured sensationalism. The Times has
demonstrated it will manufacture scandal no matter the national cost.
There is much still to admire at The New York Times --
correction, there are admirably talented people working at the Times
producing world-class work (John Burns is the world's top foreign
correspondent). However, editorial responsibility and judgment are seriously
lacking. The Times' editors appear to be wedded to the two "press templates"
of Vietnam and Watergate. "Get Bush" is their current "Get Nixon."
What should be done? Loose lips have already sunk this ship --
the program is compromised. Al-Qaida's suicide warriors aren't the smartest
of enemies, but many of its global financiers are sharp and canny -- they
will modify their m.o., forcing U.S. intelligence agencies to jury-rig new
The Senate Committee on Intelligence has asked the director of
national intelligence to assess the damage wrought by "unauthorized
disclosure." The Senate should weigh the DNI's assessment and follow up with
The Bush administration should prosecute the leakers. I don't
think the administration has the spine, however. It could barely prosecute
former Clinton administration National Security Adviser Sandy Berger for
abuse of classified material that would have put a soldier in jail. The
president's personal denunciation of the exposure is a good sign. I hope he
stays mad and proves me wrong.
On June 25, New York Times Editor in Chief Bill Keller tried to
defend his decision. His public letter included arrogant snark directed at
"conservative bloggers" and radio shows.
Keller, however, committed a "deeper error," according to
University of Tennessee constitutional law professor Glenn Reynolds.
Reynolds wrote at his influential Website, Instapundit.com, that
Keller mischaracterized freedom of the press "as an institutional
privilege." It's not. "The founders gave freedom of the press to the
people," Reynolds observed. "They didn't give freedom to the press. Keller
positions himself as some sort of constitutional high priest, when in fact
the "freedom of the press" the Framers described was also called "freedom in
the use of the press."
The Constitution gives people the right to bear arms. It doesn't
give them the right to commit murder.
Every editor wants a headline, but some headlines damage our
government's Job One: national security. I suspect Bill Keller doesn't
really believe we are fighting a for-real global counter-terror war. The
pleasant semblance of peace in the Hamptons and in Hollywood allows him to
trivialize the threat.
At one time there was hole in south Manhattan the New York
Times' elitist trivializers could not ignore.