Monday, June 26, 2006

Secretary Snow to Bill Keller

Secretary of the Treasury John Snow has written to New York Times editor Bill Keller laying out the reasons why he believes the newspaper acted wrongly in publishing a story about US efforts to track terrorist funds. The text was reproduced at the National Review Online and is reproduced verbatim here.


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.

Sincerely,

[signed]

John W. Snow, Secretary

U.S. Department of the Treasury

Tim Blair notes that on February 7, 2006 the USA Today ran this story asking the editors of major American newspapers whether or not they would publish the Mohammed Cartoons. Here was the New York Times' reply.

New York Times editor Bill Keller said that he and his staff concluded after a "long and vigorous debate" that publishing the cartoon would be "perceived as a particularly deliberate insult" by Muslims. "Like any decision to withhold elements of a story, this was neither easy nor entirely satisfying, but it feels like the right thing to do."

It felt like the right thing to do. That's editorial judgment.

35 Comments:

Blogger desert rat said...

So this was not even "leaked" but a fully briefed disclosure.

All the NYTimes Federal Press credentials should be revoked.

Take 'em out of the offical loop.
For starters.

If the Federals will not do that, if nothing else, they are less than worthless.

6/26/2006 05:17:00 PM  
Blogger tckurd said...

Remember what they did to that old biddy Helen Thomas? desert rat is off to a good start.

I think though even the conspiratorialists among us have missed the true value of this titanic revelation by the Times, well, this revelation and the others...

it provides a S C A P E G O A T.

Seymour, Keller, and company are providing the current administration with a way of getting "out of culpability" for the next big attach. The administration will, rightly so, be able to cite numerous breaches of confidentiality that lead to their inability to "connect the dots."

Pure.
Rovian.
Genius.

And meanwhile, Rove collapses the paper's infrastructure, buying public and advertisers, and puts them dead on the path of bankruptcy.

They are too stupid to know they're being played. Keller - a befitting name for someone so blind.

6/26/2006 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

I am unhappy that it has come to this. Nothing good can come of going after the New York Times; but now nothing good can come of letting it slide. Everyone is going to lose; yet there is no way out. When self-regulation breaks down an era ends. And that's sad.

6/26/2006 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Though I agree that the break down of self control at the NYTimes has led us to a dismal day, where past freedoms will be curtailed, there is The Blogofascistas

The "new" threat to Western Civilization. Blogs.

I thought it was humorous.
Butterflies don’t live here, in the blogosphere.

6/26/2006 05:42:00 PM  
Blogger Boghie said...

It is very important to cherish the responsible free press...

6/26/2006 05:51:00 PM  
Blogger Boghie said...

My hope is that these reporters, their editors, and the decision makers involved get to know members of the DOJ enough to call them by first name.

The Free Press will even exist if the New York Times and Los Angeles Times does not.

Did they think of that...

6/26/2006 05:54:00 PM  
Blogger jgm said...

As tckurd said but didn't emphasize, the man's name is "Keller," not Kellerman.

6/26/2006 05:57:00 PM  
Blogger 2164th said...

GWB is President of the United States. That comes with duties and obligations. He has been challenged by people that are openly hostile to the security of the US. Will GWB do his duty and be a president or will he be bitch slapped by the NYT?

6/26/2006 06:00:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

jgm,

I've corrected the error. Thanks.

6/26/2006 06:05:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

From Ms Malkin's

"... More just in: AJ Strata notes that in an interview with CNN, Bill Keller reveals that John Murtha--yes, that John Murtha--also joined Kean and Hamilton in pleading with the Times not to run the story...

Keller is doing an interview on CNN at 7:05 PM Eastern and has dropped a bomb shell bit of news. There were three people outside the administration who asked the NY Times to not expose the terrorist financial transaction monitoring program. Two of them from the 9-11 Commission where the co-chairs Lee Hamilton and Thomas Keane. The third person who tried to tell the NY Times they should not expose this important program was Democrat Representative John “Jack” Murtha! That’s right - Mad Murtha himself. ..."


So there you go.

6/26/2006 08:20:00 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

"I am unhappy that it has come to this. Nothing good can come of going after the New York Times; but now nothing good can come of letting it slide. Everyone is going to lose; yet there is no way out."

There is a sort-of middle way that would avoid putting newspapermen on trial. You could instead ruthlessly investigate who the government leakers were, and in the process subpeona everyone at the Times who knew the sources. They're doubly criminal, as they not only violated assorted laws, but broke their government service oaths as well. Furthermore, the Times itself is responsible for the precedent of getting subpeonas for writers notes in leak investigations, so it has no credibility if it resists.

The other issue is that it isn't just the Times. Yes, they boke the story, but it was published in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal on the same day. If you want to indict people at the Times over this, then in all fairness you have to do it at the Journal and the Post as well. If you don't, it looks like the government shutting down the press that disagrees with it.

Methinks its wiser to go after the original leakers in the government. It will have the same effect in terms of preventing this sort of thing from repeating, with the further salutary benefit of reminding rogue elements in the exective branch exactly what their duty is.

6/26/2006 08:50:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

'Rat,
"So this was not even "leaked" but a fully briefed disclosure."
---
The LA Times was meeting with the Govt when word came in that the NY Times was going to run it.
The conversation shifted from why it should not be done to more fully briefing the LA Times so they could get the story straight!
(only evil minds would think of planting FALSE information, right?
...such a lily white bunch in the white house, roberts rules for enemies, no meaningful backup for allies.)

6/26/2006 09:04:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Matt,
Keller et all either reveal their sources, or go to jail for contempt.
The sources would FRY if this admin was as serious about the War as they SAY they are.

6/26/2006 09:06:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

From the previous thread:
---
If the local police announced a moratorium on most of their enforcement responsibilies, would it behoove us to dissect and try to understand WHY Criminals would begin to run wild, and Cluck about how irresponsible THEY are?
---
The Chief Law Enforcement Officer
of the USA
is AWOL.

6/26/2006 09:09:00 PM  
Blogger MarcBoston said...

Could someone explain to me why the administration and congressmen tried so hard to discourage the Times, but not the other 3 papers?

Marc

6/26/2006 09:11:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

I believe it was because the Times was the first to decide to go ahead and publish.

6/26/2006 09:20:00 PM  
Blogger Aristides said...

Holy shit.

6/26/2006 09:38:00 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

Doug,

"Keller et all either reveal their sources, or go to jail for contempt."

That would be precisely the point. Jailtime for journalists would be up to them, not the administration. And since they themselves would not be prosecuted, they can't play martyr, and it's easier make plain that they're covering for criminals.

MarcBoston,

It was the Times that broke the story (what is left of journalistic ettiquette is still granted to the Times- he who breaks a story gets first dibs on running it), and the other newspapers published with the knowledge that the news was out anyway (The Times put the story on its website before the papers went to press). I still find it disgraceful that they did so- they could at least have withheld for a day so that the Times was on its own.

The other reason why animus is being directed at the Times in particular is beacuse this is the fourth time in two years that the Times has sabotaged intelligence operations. The last time was only a few months ago (the wiretapping story), and Bill Keller wrote a similar defense back then, essentially stating that he is the arbiter of what should and should not be classified, not the people who have that power by law (the other instances were a Times article exposing a number of companies as CIA fronts, and also the articel about the alleged secret prisons). This story was simply the last straw, and Keller ought to burn for it.

6/26/2006 09:39:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Tim Blair
Feels Right, Do It!
Here’s a plan:

Instead of merely classifying its anti-terror programs, the US government should devise a code that renders the programs as Islam-mocking cartoons.

Newspapers would never publish them.

6/26/2006 10:04:00 PM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

Bill Keller is just the hiree of the Sulzberger Family. Not even the 1st choice, as he was passed over a few times, then Jayson Blair blew up in the Sulzbergers and Howell raines face. As their annointed head, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. is the "True Decider" who sets NYTimes policy in consultation with The Family, and then with his employees like Keller.

Sulzberger, who is commonly derided as "Pinch (of Punch)" compared to the enormous respect and prestige his father Arthur (Punch) Sulzberger Sr. had, is someone who has generated considerable dissatisfaction with Class A shareholders and the Family. The Times has hybrid stock that Punch managed to finagle out of the SEC that gives the family, with 15% of the equity, total control through their Class B shares being the only shares with voting rights.

"Pinch" is thought to have made some bad hires, and is thought to have overpoliticized the NYTimes in an extreme liberal direction, and exposed the normally private Sulzbergers to unwanted scutiny. An egomaniac, he was unable to resist throwing something about himself and his political leanings - that most of the rest of us would never say to any interviewer, if we had said it in the follies of youth.

But I think "Punch" recounted it because he still believes it and shows he is DIFFERENT from the Great Man Dad......

That might explain a bit why he has pushed so hard for
revelation of sensitive secrets damaging to the USA,
and why he has his Family's paper relentlessly bashing
the troops.

Link is to an article on "Pinch":

http://www.economicprincipals.com/issues/03.06.15.html

Which references the book "The Trust", a book on the history of the Sulzbergers and an incident 35 years ago.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0316836311/qid=1055652520/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/103-2967736-3838204?s=books&v=glance&n=283155

...with this telling story about "Pinch's" time at
Tufts University circa 1971-2.


"There Arthur was arrested twice at antiwar
demonstrations. After the second time, the young
activist memorably told his father, a former first
lieutenant of Marines, that were a single American
soldier to come upon a single North Vietnamese
soldier, he would prefer that it be the American who
was shot. "It's the closest he's ever come to hitting
me," Arthur Jr. later recalled."


I wonder how he would respond these days about who he
wishes would get shot if a single Marine encounters a
single "Holy Warrior"?

Is there a good possibility he still feels now as he felt then, and Keller and Raines marching orders were to advance "Pinch's" hatred of the US military??

6/26/2006 11:02:00 PM  
Blogger whit said...

I'm sure the NYT brass considered the consequences of taking such a decision. It wouldn't surprise me if their decision was taken in large part to bolster sales by being a "Champion of the Left." (I can smell the ACLU) Maybe the NYT figured that this would be a net plus for them because with Bush's low poll numbers, his administration would not prosecute.

BTW - There's a whole lotta conspiracy theory going around these days. Let's not get into the moonbat arena. Oh, what the hell, it can be entertaining.

6/27/2006 02:25:00 AM  
Blogger timmiejoebob said...

Wretchard,

It may be sad that Sulzberger Jr has destroyed a once great institution while his family repeatedly enabled him. But, it will be a good day when the forces of nature sweep away the flotsam and jetsam of this shipwreck. The Sulzbergers put a delusional amateur at the helm of the flagship of American print media. He neglected to attend to her. When he occasionally came topside from the distractions of his stateroom, he deliberately ordered the helmsman to take her through the shoals. She was a beautiful thing. But there are many more to take her place. Better ones. Sleek, fast and more maneuverable. Hopefully their financiers and pilots will learn from The Folly of Pinch.

There are many good, dedicated people at the Times. I hope they don't perish with the rats.

6/27/2006 06:08:00 AM  
Blogger Db2m said...

2164th - "GWB is President of the United States. That comes with duties and obligations. He has been challenged by people that are openly hostile to the security of the US. Will GWB do his duty and be a president..."

GWB may be POTUS, but Laura & Karl are wearing the pants, are they not?

6/27/2006 06:53:00 AM  
Blogger Nihimon said...

MarcBoston, the NY Times was the first to publish the story on its website Thursday. The print editions of the NY Times and the LA Times published the story on Friday. And the WSJ published on Saturday.

The idea that the WSJ (or even the LA Times) should be punished as much as the NYT is a petty attempt at moral equivalence.

The other papers almost certainly wouldn't have published if the NYT had refrained.

6/27/2006 08:11:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

"... But although the Times is open about its willingness - make that eagerness - to publish secrets in wartime, it doesn't appear that the Justice Department plans on doing anything in response. And so it's fair to ask: Does the Bush administration have a serious plan for winning the international war on terror, or is it drifting down the path of least political resistance - and thus to defeat? ..."

Has the Gray Lady turned the president yellow?
by James P. Pinkerton

6/27/2006 08:12:00 AM  
Blogger Goesh said...

Talk is cheap, show me the indictments, otherwise quit the bull s*** and political posturing

6/27/2006 08:25:00 AM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

Of course we don't want another major terror attack...

I'm not a lawyer, but I suspect the NYT, by systematically undermining the GWOT, has left itself open to a class action suit after the next 9-11 attack. A wrongful death suit by 50,000 survivors would not only ruin it's reputation, but ruin the paper if it were to succeed. Then you don't need the Fed's to do anything. The NYT goes bankrupt, point made.

6/27/2006 09:22:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

We shouldn't need to file a wrongful death lawsuit AFTER a terrorist attack, when we've got laws BEFORE the attack to prosecute.

Go after the Times for treason and sedition. Go after the leakers for not doing what they pledged to do when they took the job. You cannot tell me that employees at the Pentagon, NSA, CIA, FBI do not take oaths of secrecy and sign in blood when they take the jobs. At a minimum their asses should be fired when they don't uphold those oaths, especially if they're being paid taxpayer money. At a maximum, I see absolutely no good reason why they, too, shouldn't spend some time in a maximum bad jail right next to their good buddies Moussoui, Mr. Keller, and Mr. Schultzberg.

What in the world do we have an Attorney General for, not to mention a whole entire Justice Department, if they can't take time off from surfing the internet to prosecute these people???

6/27/2006 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger Brett L said...

Actually, I thought that the US Supreme Court has long ruled that the "freedom of the press" clause referred to the technology, not the professional class who generated the information printed by the technology. Thus, anyone who operates a media device in the US is entitled to the same freedom (and bound by the same laws).

It is only in the last 60 years or so that The Press (also referred to as The Media after the medium became media) has lobbied for and received exemptions based upon their station.

To put it another way, if this information had been posted on a web site run inside the US by a random individual, it should be prosecuted or defended the same way. Being credential members of The Press has nothing to do with the First Amendment.

6/27/2006 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger Brett L said...

Additionally, and seperately, I'm quite sure that an admittedly legal program with independent oversight is not in any way, shape, or form protected by either Whistleblower or Watergate precedents. There is no defense.

And yes, I think what's good for the goose is good for the gander. It's either right or wrong to publish this info. LAT and WSJ should suffer with the NYT.

6/27/2006 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I don't think you can get LAT and WSJ because they could then say that they are merely reporting the news that NYT is breaking the law. In describing the act that NYT committed they would say they may have to break the law, too, but it seems to me that it's a different thing and would be much harder to follow through with.

6/27/2006 04:12:00 PM  
Blogger Nihimon said...

As it turns out, the LAT may be morally just as guilty as the NYT as it appears they were on the verge of making the decision to publish when the NYT broke the story on their website.

However, blaming the WSJ for publishing the story well after it was broken, when there is no evidence to suggest they'd have published it first, is like blaming firefighters for starting backfires when there's already a wildfire in progress.

What next, will you also demand that the gov't employees who fully briefed the LAT and WSJ so they could get the story right be jailed alongside whoever originally leaked it to the NYT?

6/28/2006 06:40:00 AM  
Blogger Brett L said...

nihimon:

My understanding is that all 3 outlets had independent information. I don't believe that the WSJ story was just, "The NYT reported x,y,z". It's either right or wrong to publish classified information obtained from a source with clearance. Being the second (or third) to publish it shouldn't matter.

6/28/2006 06:48:00 AM  
Blogger Nihimon said...

Brett L,

If that's the case, then why isn't it equally true that the people who fully briefed the LAT and WSJ so that they could get the story right are as guilty as the original leakers to the NYT?

6/28/2006 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Brett L said...

Yes. Unless directed to brief said papers by a person of sufficient authority to declassify the material.

6/28/2006 12:47:00 PM  

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