Monday, June 26, 2006

John Snow calls Bill Keller a liar 

Secretary of the Treasury John Snow has apparently just released a letter he has written to the New York Times over its exposure of our transactions surveillance program. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it appears that Snow called Bill Keller a liar:

Mr. Bill Keller, Managing Editor
The New York Times
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036

Dear Mr. Keller:

The New York Times' decision to disclose the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, a robust and classified effort to map terrorist networks through the use of financial data, was irresponsible and harmful to the security of Americans and freedom-loving people worldwide. In choosing to expose this program, despite repeated pleas from high-level officials on both sides of the aisle, including myself, the Times undermined a highly successful counter-terrorism program and alerted terrorists to the methods and sources used to track their money trails.

Your charge that our efforts to convince The New York Times not to publish were "half-hearted" is incorrect and offensive. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Over the past two months, Treasury has engaged in a vigorous dialogue with the Times - from the reporters writing the story to the D.C. Bureau Chief and all the way up to you. It should also be noted that the co-chairmen of the bipartisan 9-11 Commission, Governor Tom Kean and Congressman Lee Hamilton, met in person or placed calls to the very highest levels of the Times urging the paper not to publish the story. Members of Congress, senior U.S. Government officials and well-respected legal authorities from both sides of the aisle also asked the paper not to publish or supported the legality and validity of the program.

Indeed, I invited you to my office for the explicit purpose of talking you out of publishing this story. And there was nothing "half-hearted" about that effort. I told you about the true value of the program in defeating terrorism and sought to impress upon you the harm that would occur from its disclosure. I stressed that the program is grounded on solid legal footing, had many built-in safeguards, and has been extremely valuable in the war against terror.

Additionally, Treasury Under Secretary Stuart Levey met with the reporters and your senior editors to answer countless questions, laying out the legal framework and diligently outlining the multiple safeguards and protections that are in place.

You have defended your decision to compromise this program by asserting that "terror financiers know" our methods for tracking their funds and have already moved to other methods to send money. The fact that your editors believe themselves to be qualified to assess how terrorists are moving money betrays a breathtaking arrogance and a deep misunderstanding of this program and how it works. While terrorists are relying more heavily than before on cumbersome methods to move money, such as cash couriers, we have continued to see them using the formal financial system, which has made this particular program incredibly valuable.

Lastly, justifying this disclosure by citing the "public interest" in knowing information about this program means the paper has given itself free license to expose any covert activity that it happens to learn of - even those that are legally grounded, responsibly administered, independently overseen, and highly effective. Indeed, you have done so here.

What you've seemed to overlook is that it is also a matter of public interest that we use all means available - lawfully and responsibly - to help protect the American people from the deadly threats of terrorists. I am deeply disappointed in the New York Times.



John W. Snow, Secretary
U.S. Department of the Treasury

Well, one of them is definitely lying. It will be interesting to see whether Keller accuses Snow in reverse. This could will get uglier, I think.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jun 26, 08:44:00 PM:

Kellar is the man.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Mon Jun 26, 08:49:00 PM:

The public's right to know...

What public is the NYTimes serving in this instance? That isn't a facetious question, I want to know and I have a right to know.

I also have a right to know that vital national security programs are not wantonly diminished or compromised. I have a right to know the government will make all legitimate efforts to protect this country and its people. I have a right to know that it will take steps to protect these efforts.

Further, I have a right to know just who the hell Bill Keller thinks he is to compromise an entirely legitimate program such as this, and so blithely endanger my and my family's well-being.  

By Blogger tcobb, at Mon Jun 26, 09:17:00 PM:

Perhaps its time to drive a stake through the Gray Whore's heart. Would it be that hard to create a website where all of the advertisers of the New York Times would be listed, and providing contact information for those entities? It could be a springboard for people who are utterly appalled with the filthy NYT to send messages to those advertisers that they will boycott them if they continue to post ads in that filthy stinking rag. If the advertising money dies, so will the NYT.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Mon Jun 26, 10:15:00 PM:

I suspect that this kind of political barrage was not released without the President's consent. I would also suspect (hope) that this incident will be followed by a blackout on the Times. That is, no officials anywhere in the executive, including State, DoD, Justice, et cetera, are allowed to speak with Times employees on pain of termination and possible prosecution. (depending on the nature of the information)

This tactic is considered a tactical nuke in the media/political world and is refrained from because it is understood that the media as a whole would retaliate. It was only ever briefly mentioned in any of my classes in college. However, I don't see how they could do this government any worse than they are doing now, and I don't think that the media could ever hope to claim the moral high ground in this little episode. I hope this tactic is used.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Mon Jun 26, 10:56:00 PM:

It highlights an uncomfortable question that has been growing in the minds of many. If this attempt at persuasion and reasoning was ineffective with the Times, what would it take to convince them? Is there anything that the Bush administration could have said that would have dissuaded them, or does the NYT simply reject all entreaties because of their source?  

By Blogger honestpartisan, at Mon Jun 26, 11:16:00 PM:

I don't know if it's necessary that one or the other is lying. When I read John Snow's letter, it seems like he is interpreting "half-hearted" to mean that the government didn't try very hard to make the case against publishing the story. The way I read Bill Keller's use of "half-hearted" in the letter he wrote is that the arguments that the government made against publishing the story just weren't very good arguments. That doesn't preclude that they may have been "vigorous", as John Snow asserts.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Mon Jun 26, 11:22:00 PM:

I wonder which part of "You will be nullifying an effective weapon and potentially endangering the lives of Americans" he didn't consider a 'good argument...'

*will never buy a NYT ever again, ever*  

By Blogger charlotte, at Mon Jun 26, 11:39:00 PM:

Well, one of them is definitely lying.

It's probably the one who was seen exiting his office in Times Square with his pants on fire. I hear the tourists who saw him thought it was a street act of some kind.  

By Blogger honestpartisan, at Tue Jun 27, 10:55:00 AM:

I wonder which part of "You will be nullifying an effective weapon and potentially endangering the lives of Americans" he didn't consider a 'good argument...'

Dawnfire82, that's an assertion, not an argument.

FWIW, here's an empirical argument that the Times' disclosure actually didn't negatively impact national security.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Tue Jun 27, 11:22:00 AM:

HP - 2 things:

1) DF82 was making an argument as to why the NYT shouldn't have disclosed. You can call it assertion. You could also counterargue that by issuing such disclosure, you "would not be doing so"...etc etc. Your comment seems to be a distinction without a difference, for argument's sake.

2) The "empirical" argument offered is extremely weak.

a) He attacks Bush's criticism of the NYT, suggesting it would have been more balanced to criticize the NYT, LAT and WSJ. Not true. The NYT published first, and the LAT and WSJ said they only followed suit. The decision to publish once the story is already in the public domain is vastly different than the first guy who pulls the trigger.

b) More substantively, the fellow argues that a CIA program isn't subject to oversight, whereas an FBI program is. Not true. This program was subject to Congressional oversight and in strict accordance with US law. Even the NYT says so. Johnson's argument is a fiction designed to fool people. A lie. A fabrication.

c) Finally, the fellow tries to minimize the damage by essentially saying, hey, everybody knew we monitored thru Swift anyway. Well, I didn't. And I am a smart fellow in the finance business. I doubt most terrorists know about Swift.

d) Lastly, he argues that terrorists don't money launder. That the money tends to come from "legitimate charities." Well, we have now indicted enough of those "legitimate charities" to suggest that perhaps they ain't so legitimate, and busted Hezbollah drug runners in North Carolina.

Methinks Mr. Johnson is a Dishonest Partisan Hack who can't disinguish fact from fiction.

But at least you know I read it.  

By Blogger honestpartisan, at Tue Jun 27, 12:15:00 PM:

Yes, thanks for reading it. I have a couple of responses to your responses.

Stating that the disclosure harms national security interests is a conclusion. It's content-free. It doesn't state how or why the disclosure harms national security interests. If such a bare and conclusory statement was the sum and substance of the administration's objections to the publication of the New York Times story, then I understand why Keller would have deemed it to be "half-hearted", even if it was made "vigorously", and Snow represents.

The New York Times is a red flag to a lot of people in Bush's base. The flogging of the Times seems calculated, at least in part, to play to that base, which goes to Johnson's speculation that the outrage over this disclosure is really politically motivated. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Assuming for the sake of argument that it isn't, that's fine. I'm more interested in the substantive question of whether or not the disclosure harms national security interests.

After I read your accusation that Johnson is a liar, I went back and read his post. He states, accurately, that the FBI requires judicial oversight, because it normally builds a case for prosecution, and stuff that is searched without judicial authorization is subject to the exclusionary rule. The CIA traditionally gathers intelligence data from foreign sources, however, so that kind of judicial oversight is not used or necessary. This is a distinction he makes pretty explicitly.

The question of whether terrorists gaily used banks for various financial transactions without a hint that such transactions may be tracked but are now alerted as such is an empirical one. I find this scenario unlikely, but I don't have any data handy. I find Johnson's surmises on this point reasonable, but he doesn't have hard facts. Neither does the Bush Administration. I will stipulate that if this scenario is in fact true, then yes the disclosure did harm national security interests. Keller indicates in his letter that the Administration didn't provide empirical backup for this proposition.

As for the last point, I took it to mean that SWIFT is more applicable to a different model of criminality: drug kingpins disguising where they got profits as opposed to terrorist groups receiving money from donations.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Tue Jun 27, 12:47:00 PM:


This statement is a stunner:

I will stipulate that if this scenario is in fact true, then yes the disclosure did harm national security interests. Keller indicates in his letter that the Administration didn't provide empirical backup for this proposition.

So in other words, in dealing with someone who has already revealed classified info ONCE and threatens to do it again, your argument is that the government should have revealed MORE classified info in the hopes the Keller would hold off?

Pardon my Phrench, but *incroyable*.

Then you state that you're 'not convinced' national security was harmed by the NYT's disclosure of a secret program.

Leaving aside for the moment the rather important question of whether the NYT is justified in breaking the law anytime they feel the public has an interest in having the details of secret programs revealed, do you really believe that it is a *good* thing for as many people as possible to know the government is tracking bank tranfers to terrorist organizations?

If you find a way to learn who is funding these people, you gain two things:

1. Who (and this may be a string of organziations, including foreign governments) is sympathetic enough to the terrorists to want to give them money (and quite possibly other assistance), and

2. Who *they're* dealing with.

They don't call it money laundering for nothing.

Financial tracking has two objectives: find out who's dealing with terrorists and cut off their source of funding. Not all terrorists are brain surgeons, and not all donors are terrorists. The fact that the program has identified and helped to capture some terrorists (like the Bali bomber) already rather undercuts your "I find this scenario unlikely" comment, doesn't it? Maybe it would have been better if we let this Bali guy just go free.

After all, what are 200 lives here and there?

Chicken feed.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Tue Jun 27, 01:27:00 PM:

I also object to the idea that the government has to justify to the NYT exactly why the information is damaging. It's the government's call, not the NYT. Even if the government is stupid and overestimating the potential damage, it's still their call, because they are charged with our safety, and the NYT isn't.

If a newspaper has some evidence that the government is abusing this right of declaring secrecy, the reporter has the right to investigate that. The government would then be doubly guilty. But arrogating to itself the authority to reveal what it has been told is classified should remove any newspaper from being trusted with further classified material.

Honestpartisan, I have a personal rule. When someone uses the motive fallacy twice on the same issue, I write them off as someone unworthy of discussing things with. I note the first one in your "red flag" paragraph above. I was not impressed by the backhanded way you made the accusation that this could be merely political while pretending not to make it.  

By Blogger honestpartisan, at Tue Jun 27, 01:29:00 PM:

I take from your comment, then, that all the Administration has to do to stop publication of an article is say, "it harms national security interests" and that should end the inquiry. Gee, that would be handy for an administration.  

By Blogger honestpartisan, at Tue Jun 27, 01:36:00 PM:

AVI - I was responding to CP's defense of the Bush Administration only attacking the New York Times to the exclusion of other newspapers. I went on to say that it was fine if the attack on the Times wasn't a political calculation and that I was more intertested in the actual content of the issue as to whether or not this disclosure hurt national security. I think you're stretching.  

By Anonymous opit, at Tue Jun 27, 02:49:00 PM:

Disinformation has long been a government tool.
I'm parannoyed - not a spelling mistake - to think NYT is plugging an inefficient and ineffective tool and that what's going on is window dressing to simulate truthfulness.
That would be - on its face - to intimidate terrorists. Possible secondary motive : discourage - again - looking too closely at what the administratioon is actually doing.
Lack of oversight is already a glaring fault.
If this stuff is valid, that is a grave danger to America.


Even if it isn't, there are plenty of other warnings out there to watch this lot like hawks.
Interesting, isn't it, that the outgoing Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, after setting up his timetable for retirement, publicly characterized Bush as an extremely stupid man. That was quite some time back.

A word, to the wise, is sufficient.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Tue Jun 27, 03:08:00 PM:

So if I understand you, any citizen who thinks the government has failed to justify even a classified program or exercise can out it at will.

Wow. Remind me, when my husband gets home, to tell him that 27 years in the Marine Corps have been a huge mistake. For some odd reason, he is willing to give his life to defend folks who advocate breaking the law at will and who don't care if their opinions get others killed.

The difference, HP, is that we elected Bush and Congress. We did not elect Bill Keller and he has absolutely no right to substitute his judgment for that of our elected representatives, whom we have entrusted with the responsibility to keep us safe.

According to these pesky docs like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, power comes from the consent a majority of the governed. If you lose an election, you are free to try and persuade others to your point of view the next go round. You are *not* free to break the law anytime you please because *in your judgment* it was warranted. You have no mandate and no civil authority because you do not act with the consent of the governed.

The idea that government has to get the approval of every single fricking American before it can act is simply preposterous.

I did NOT consent to have Bill Keller making national security decisions for me.

If I were a more malicious person, I would look forward to having a Democrat adminstration in office so I could make all the arguments I've heard here when I decide that my personal opinion is far more important than those of my countrymen and I can, therefore, break the law whenever I choose...unless of course the government meets my demands.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Tue Jun 27, 05:00:00 PM:

HP - I won't bother responding to much of your fluffy response. One thing that you said did matter; it's what Cassandra refereced in re: your stipulation. In the original NYT story, the authors disclose that the program was instrumental in catching Al Qaeda's number one guy in southeast asia, Hanbali. The make this as a factual assertion. This would be empirical evidence of the program's effectivenes in the War on Terror. Thus, the condition of your stipulations has been met. By your own measures, the disclosure of the program hurt national security interests...unless you don't believe that Hanbali, and the senior leadership of AQ generally, harms our national security interests when free. Which would make you not credible on this subject any longer.


By Blogger honestpartisan, at Tue Jun 27, 06:11:00 PM:

I'm beginning to feel like dragging this discussion out further is having diminishing returns. But what the heck.


Sure, Congress and the President are charged with protecting the public. And I don't have a problem with the proposition that criminalization of disclosure of classified material is a legitimate exercise of such protection. But it's a long way from that proposition to the prejudicial leap you make, that the New York Times is guilty of a crime. If that's the case, the government has a remedy for that (which I understand that you're urging that the government employ). Fine. Let the government exercise its remedy, but until it does your presumption that it is guilty is awfully premature - just like with accusations about Karl Rove vis a vis Valerie Plame. As judgments about national security are better left to the experts, the First Amendment tells me that outside of any illegal disclosures, the New York Times is allowed to publish what it wants. In the meantime, I'd recommend that you take this guy's advice.


My stipulation was that the New York Times will have compromised national security if its disclosure alerted terrorists that bank transactions could be tracked. Terrorists have a lot of bad, atrocious qualities, but I don't think that they're stupid. The question isn't whether the SWIFT monitoring program is a decent program -- it seems fine to me -- that question is whether its disclosure would have, say, stopped the apprehension of Hambali. As this information from the link Screwy Hoolie made in his comment to the post above shows, that the U.S. monitors such financial transactions wasn't a secret prior to the New York Times story. Bush touted the fact that the U.S. follows terrorists' money trails back in 2004. If terrorists like Hambali would have altered their behavior, wouldn't they have done so already?  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue Jun 27, 07:49:00 PM:

"Let the government exercise its remedy, but until it does your presumption that it is guilty is awfully premature - just like with accusations about Karl Rove vis a vis Valerie Plame."

Bull. Are you a defense lawyer? You sound like one.

There a huge difference between some half-remembered conversation some official may or may not have had on the phone (where there is legitimate grey area and room for human error) and publishing a story in a national paper which quite clearly, and admittedly, reveals (previously) secret information important to the national interest in violation of a federal law that anyone can look up and see and conclude, "Yeah, they did that alright."

A little like publishing a plea for people to rise up and destroy the federal government by force of arms, which is also illegal. Everyone can see that you did it. Everyone can see that you're obviously proud of it. And everyone can see that it's against the law.

The idea that they aren't guilty until proven in court is a mere legal nicety. Or was Charles Whitman innocent of murder because he was never tried in court?  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Jun 28, 06:57:00 AM:


re Karl Rove, your statement, if Karl Rove broke the law he should be prosecuted accordingly. was one I agreed with from the start. I was furious with Fitzgerald for cutting a deal with Judy Miller that allowed her not to testify - he deep-sixed his own investigation, unless he was lying when he sent her to jail, claiming her testimony was "vital to proving his case". I was never worried about what might come out or who might go to jail - if Rethugs break the law, they should pay the price. So I'm not sure what the point of all this is.

I never once said Rove was innocent. Or guilty. Not once. There is no way I can know that.

The problem with the Plame scandal is that the special prosecutor never even established that the elements of the crime had been satisfied. What in blue blazes is the point of an investigation that doesn't bother to establish that the offense you're 'investigating' did, in fact take place?

If you're not serious about the investigation, then the whole exercise is a partisan witch hunt.

With the NY Times, we have a different situation. Revealing classified information is unlawful on its face. If this was common knowledge as Glenn wrongly maintains and nothing was published that wasn't in wide circulation, then where is the value in publishing it? After all, everyone already knows! Except they didn't, did they?

I can't help wondering, if this was common knowledge, what the hell was "leaked", why wasn't the Times on this story long ago, and what the heck are Congressional Dems and morons like Arlen Specter getting their panties all in a wad about? None of the outrage is warranted if what you all maintain is true, is it?

If you see an activity occur which is unlawful on its face, a grand jury should investigate whether there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed. If there isn't, the Times will walk. What are you worried about?

I supported the Plame investigation because when an allegation like that is made, the public has an interest in establishing the facts. I didn't believe, just looking at the law, that the elements of the IIPA were satisfied, nor did most legal experts who looked at the issue. But what the heck. Y'all got your day in court.

But just let someone note that the Times is releasing classifed information, and you want to stymie that process. Mentioning that we monitor financial t/a and publishing the details of how we're doing that are two different things. The "what" is a given. The "how" wasn't general knowledge until the Times' disclosure.

And terrorists operate on a decentralized scheme where cells communicate over the Internet and money flows in from all sorts of non-terrorists who are funding them. Your assumption that all of the cogs in this operation were fully aware is belied by the fact that we caught some terrorists with the tracking program.

If, as you say, they all knew, then why did we catch any of them? Why didn't they all eschew banks so they wouldn't get caught by an operation you say they were all fully aware of?

Those are a couple of good questions that you all refuse to address, just like you refuse to address the fact that the two chairs of your sacred 9/11 Commission (one R, one D) also asked the Times not to publish because they thought it would damage national security.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Wed Jun 28, 10:59:00 AM:

HP - the answer to your lengthy and somewhat silly question is "No." Perhaps the terrorists aren't stupid, but they are, as are we, less well versed on the intricacies of international money flows. Access to non US money flow data via SWIFT was easily something the terrorists may not have fully appreciated. I for one did not. And I know the system reasonably well. But to achieve this level of international cooperation (hey, a multilateral program for fighting the Ar on Terror) to capture non US banking data was an important accomplishment, now moot. So AQ leaders may have, for instance, assumed money flows which avoided a US bank touchpoint were safe. Or that the odds off safety were in their favor. No longer.

The lengths with which the antiwar community is willing to stifle US capabilities at fighting, and then defend the indefensible and obvious is, frankly, laughable. It reflects delusion, hallucinations and so forth. the duck is quacking HP. It is a duck.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jun 28, 03:06:00 PM:

I freely admit I know nothing about the law on this issue, so maybe someone can help me out here. Let's assume the info leaked really is damaging -- isn't the crime really committed by whoever had security clearance and then passed it to the NYT? I don't imagine NYT reporters have security clearance - so can they be guilty of "leaking" secret information? I can understand the argument that what they did was immoral, but illegal?

Also if it really is a crime, national security was really at stake, and the government KNEW beforehand that the NYT was going to publish - do they have the power to go to a judge and get an injunction preventing them from publishing it? If they do, then it would sure seem like the administration at some levels was happy to have the Times releasing the info just to get the base all up and energized.

Also, as someone who knows next to nothing about international finance, I know simply from once wiring money to a foreign account that there's something called a SWIFT code. I'm assuming that's the same thing we're all screaming at each other about. Sure seemed like something that anyone with any resources could trace, including the US Government. Wouldn't one think that any terrorist who's smart enough to read the NYT to keep up on the latest techniques in US counter-intelligence, might already have a clue that such a transaction could be monitored?

I dunno, maybe I watch too much "Alias". Doesn't seem like a crime. And it doesn't even seem very newsworthy. It would have been shocking and scandalous if we WEREN'T monitoring this SWIFT stuff. Now that would have been some good front page material.

-Snowball in Hell  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Wed Jun 28, 05:01:00 PM:

I wonder if the good people at the NYTimes will have the effrontery to point fingers and ask why more wasn't done to prevent it, after the next big attack?

I do hope, for their sakes, they don't insist on anyone's connecting the dots.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Jun 28, 05:31:00 PM:

Dear Snowball:

THere is a law on the books which specifically says you can't publish classfied info.

RE: the eponymous "the terrorists all knew anyway" argument, if they all knew, why did the program catch anyone? That's a question no one wants to address.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jun 29, 11:48:00 AM:


So, again, just wondering; if the NYT was breaking the law, don't you think John Snow could have used stronger language, instead of "pretty pretty please with a cherry on top, don't be irresponsible", how 'bout a little, "you're breaking the law. If you intend to publish, we will get a court order to stop you, and then if you still publish then we must prosecute you".

I'm starting to agree that publishing the article was irresponsible, but the blame should go to whoever leaked it in the first place. And I see your point about catching the Bali bomber, if that's really how he was caught. I think the answer might be the smart ones all knew. The question then becomes, do the dumb ones read the New York Times, so now they know?

This is what scares me so much. Seems like it's just too easy for virtually any idiot to blow things up. Good grief, that freakin' shoe bomber almost took down a plane.

On a similar note, here's what scares me even more about the original NYT article -- they say it is NOT possible to set up an alert if some numbskull uses a credit card to buy fertilizer and bomb-timing devices. Why the hell not? Where's our totalitarian dystopia when you really need it?

-Snowball in Really Deep Hell  

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