NYT's Eric Lichtblau: For Terror Surveillance Before He Was Against It

Thanks to Cori Dauber at Ranting Profs , we know that Times intelligence reporter Eric Lichtblau, notorious for co-writing the article revealing the terrorist surveillance program of international banking transactions known as SWIFT, wrote an article last November critical of the administration for -- get this -- lacking a strategy to cut off terrorist funding. From November 29, 2005 (Times Select or $ required): “U.S. Lacks Strategy to Curb Terror Funds, Agency Says.” An excerpt:

“The government's efforts to help foreign nations cut off the supply of money to terrorists, a critical goal for the Bush administration, have been stymied by infighting among American agencies, leadership problems and insufficient financing, a new Congressional report says. More than four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, ‘the U.S. government lacks an integrated strategy’ to train foreign countries and provide them with technical assistance to shore up their financial and law enforcement systems against terrorist financing, according to the report prepared by the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress.”

More from Lichtblau in November:

“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.”

So, seven months after criticizing Bush for failing to track terrorist financing, Lichtblau made it far more difficult to do so with his exposure of the SWIFT terrorist-tracking program.

Lichtblau covered the same beat as a reporter at the L.A. Times. A story he co-wrote with Josh Meyer on April 7, 2002 made the same arguments, criticizing Bush for allegedly failing to push the same programs Lichtblau exposed to the world in June 2006. There’s also this ironic passage:

“The United States is receiving far less cooperation than it needs from many allied nations, which have pledged to help choke off the terrorist money supply but lack the political will, technical know-how and legal framework to make that happen.”

Speaking of sapping “political will,” the initial backlash resulting from Lichtblau’s exposure of SWIFT includes the Belgian prime minister calling for a Justice Ministry investigation into whether the program, which is based in Belgium, violated Belgian law.

Not that Lichtblau was totally morose in his 2002 piece. In fact, he thought financial tracking vital, if extremely difficult in practice:

“Everyone agrees that financial investigations are critically important in uncovering, and even thwarting, terrorist activity. Credit card, phone and travel records and other forms of payment can be used to identify those involved in a conspiracy, to establish links between them and other co-conspirators and to gather evidence.”

The bit about “phone records” is particularly relevant, given that it was Lichtblau who revealed last December the National Security Agency’s monitoring without warrants of international phone calls and emails from and to terrorist suspects.

 

What would the surveillance-boosting Lichtblau of 2002 thinks of the surveillance-busting Lichtblau of today?

For more examples of New York Times bias, visit TimesWatch.

Clay Waters
Clay Waters
Clay Waters was director of Times Watch, a former project of the Media Research Center.