NYT Bemoans August Al Qaeda Plot Leak After Blowing Open Bush Admin Financial Monitoring in 2006

September 30th, 2013 8:17 PM

Isn't this rich? The New York Times, in a Sunday story placed on the front page of Monday's print edition, took shots at another news organization for leaking sensitive intelligence. The Old Grey Lady must think we all have short memories.

Unfortunately, Dylan Byers at the Politico does have a short memory — either that, or he's protecting the sacred Times and its history-challenged reporters Eric Schmitt and Michael S. Schmidt. Here's how Byers lays out the situation (bolds are mine throughout this post):

New York Times calls out McClatchy

The New York Times reported in a front page article on Monday that terrorists changed their methods after leaks detailing how the U.S. monitors communications were published in the press.

Specifically, the Times points out McClatchy Newspapers, who first named the two al Qaeda leaders whose communications intercepts led to the closure of embassies and travel warnings across the Middle East.

"McClatchy Newspapers first reported on the conversations between Mr. Zawahri and Mr. Wuhayshi on Aug. 4. Two days before that, The New York Times agreed to withhold the identities of the Qaeda leaders after senior American intelligence officials said the information could jeopardize their operations. After the government became aware of the McClatchy article, it dropped its objections to The Times’s publishing the same information, and the newspaper did so on Aug. 5," the article says.

The Times article quotes high-ranking officials and experts on security who say the leak in August caused "more immediate damage to American counterterrorism efforts than the thousands of classified documents disclosed by Edward Snowden."

But McClatchy Washington bureau chief James Asher told the Huffington Post the New York Times article is "odd" and that the government has never contacted McClatchy to raise any concerns about the story.

So the governmnent contacted the Times ahead of time and never contacted McClatchy at all? It would seem that perhaps the Times's alleged "senior intelligence officials" aren't all that senior.

It's especially odd because seven years ago, the government did contact the Times to raise concerns about an impending story — and the Times defiantly went ahead and ran it anyway:

Bank Data Is Sifted by U.S. in Secret to Block Terror

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.

... Officials described the Swift program as the biggest and most far-reaching of several secret efforts to trace terrorist financing. Much more limited agreements with other companies have provided access to A.T.M. transactions, credit card purchases and Western Union wire payments, the officials said.

... The Bush administration has made no secret of its campaign to disrupt terrorist financing, and President Bush, Treasury officials and others have spoken publicly about those efforts. Administration officials, however, asked The New York Times not to publish this article, saying that disclosure of the Swift program could jeopardize its effectiveness. They also enlisted several current and former officials, both Democrat and Republican, to vouch for its value.

Bill Keller, the newspaper's executive editor, said: "We have listened closely to the administration's arguments for withholding this information, and given them the most serious and respectful consideration. We remain convinced that the administration's extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial data, however carefully targeted use of it may be, is a matter of public interest."

The SWIFT program was especially a matter of interest to terrorists, who obviously learned that they had to change how they processed financial transactions. In other words, on a far more significant matter, the Times gave terrorists a heads-up, enabling them to "change their methods after leaks" — exactly what the Times sanctimoniously and apparently with pretty thin basis accuses McClatchy of having done with the naming of two Al Qaeda leaders.

In October 2006, Times Public Editor Byron Calame issued a "mea culpa," asserting after defending the Times's conduct several months earlier that he had been wrong:

My original support for the article rested heavily on the fact that so many people already knew about the program that serious terrorists also must have been aware of it. But critical, and clever, readers were quick to point to a contradiction: the Times article and headline had both emphasized that a “secret” program was being exposed. (If one sentence down in the article had acknowledged that a number of people were probably aware of the program, both the newsroom and I would have been better able to address that wave of criticism.)

What kept me from seeing these matters more clearly earlier in what admittedly was a close call? I fear I allowed the vicious criticism of The Times by the Bush administration to trigger my instinctive affinity for the underdog and enduring faith in a free press — two traits that I warned readers about in my first column.

Awww, poor Byron. The Bush administration had criticized the Times, so he instinctively leaped to its defense instead of clearheadedly assessing the situation.

What's the point of having a "public editor" (the Times still has one) if he or she is just going to grab the cheerleading gear under stress?

I don't know how we can make any conclusion other than that it's okay at the Times to publish comprehensively compromising national security secrets when a Repbulican is president, but it's some kind of sin against humanity when somebody does it on a far smaller scale during a Democratic administration. Another conclusion: Dylan Byers needs to catch up on his history.

No wonders revenues at the Times essentially haven't budged in three years.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.