Dissimulation Exposed

Friday, June 30, 2006

"Not everything is fit to print." - Alexander Bickel

The SWIFT anti-terror program allows US government officials to track, in detail, international monetary transactions.

SWIFT led a team of Thai police and CIA agents to terrorist mastermind Hambali. Hambali, also known as "Indonesia's bin Laden", masterminded the 2002 Bali bombing, in which "more than 200 innocent people, mostly Australians, were ripped apart, maimed or burned beyond recognition when dual explosions tore apart the Sari Club, a popular Kuta Beach nightspot." [1] Besides several other small terrorist attacks, he is responsible for planning and directing the murder of at least 20 more innocents in a series of suicide bombings against Western targets in Southeast Asia.

The SWIFT program similarly led to the arrest of Uzair Paracha. Paracha was convicted of several crimes, including an attempt to smuggle al Qaeda member Majid Khan into the country. Paracha confessed that Khan was trying to enter the country to perpetrate a chemical attack within its borders.

SWIFT also helped in investigating the 7/7 attacks in the UK and yielded the arrest of a man aiding terrorists in Iraq. Presumably, there are more investigations currently ongoing and there may have been many more in the future.

That is, until the New York Times, in a shocking display of arrogance[2], decided for We the People that it was no longer in the interest of our National Security for the program to remain secret. The administration, and members of the 9/11 Commission, pleaded with the New York Times not to reveal the details of it to our enemies, citing the nontrivial success stories that grew out of the programs use. But successful or not, legal or illegal, no secret, anti-terror program this administration develops is safe from the prying spies in the New York Times.

In a reaction to the massive public outcry, the New York Times has since attempted to defend its dangerous act. They claim that the program was well-known -- thus, it's revelation would have no effect. But within the Times article itself, they state that the program was meant to be secret and that the government pains itself to sanitize information it has gathered from SWIFT to prevent terrorists from recognizing the source (ie, SWIFT) of our intelligence. Also, why would a program that is well-known by all be newsworthy, and stranger still, worthy of a prominent front page display? These arguments, deployed by the Times in an attempt to defend itself, are eloquently refuted by Hugh Hewitt.

Clearly, something must be done. Most importantly, the government needs to ruthlessly investigate, and punish, officials who illegally leak classified information. There are legal mechanisms for declassifying information, when it is in the best interest of the nation. When the illegal route is taken, there should be no mercy, for any official, at any level.

I am still mulling over the appropriate sanction for the Times. Clearly, they have acted immorally, but a legal punishment might set a dangerous precedent. Or is that precedent precisely what is needed?

[1] From the CrimeLibrary.
[2] Registration required.
[*]See also Fit and Unfit to Print and National Security Be Damned.


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