Is Stopping Terrorism Not In The Public Interest?

Hugh Hewitt has a dissection of Bill Keller’s apologia for The New York Times and the anti-terrorism-funding program leaks. Needless to say, Keller’s stance reflects the deep-seated institutional arrogance we’ve all come to know and love from The New York Times. Keller makes what to me seems a shocking admission:

It’s not our job to pass judgment on whether this program is legal or effective, but the story cites strong arguments from proponents that this is the case. While some experts familiar with the program have doubts about its legality, which has never been tested in the courts, and while some bank officials worry that a temporary program has taken on an air of permanence, we cited considerable evidence that the program helps catch and prosecute financers of terror, and we have not identified any serious abuses of privacy so far. A reasonable person, informed about this program, might well decide to applaud it. That said, we hesitate to preempt the role of legislators and courts, and ultimately the electorate, which cannot consider a program if they don’t know about it.

Does Keller have even the faintest concept of secrecy in wartime? His arguments are completely besides the point. Maybe some amateur military tactician could have had some brilliant insight that would have saved lives at Normandy – would that have made it right for the press to publish our battle plans? Keller admits that there is no evidence of wrongdoing. There’s plenty of evidence that it has helped find terrorists such as Hambali, a key al-Qaeda operative in Southeast Asia.

Keller then makes another utterly disingenious argument:

We weighed most heavily the Administration’s concern that describing this program would endanger it. The central argument we heard from officials at senior levels was that international bankers would stop cooperating, would resist, if this program saw the light of day. We don’t know what the banking consortium will do, but we found this argument puzzling. First, the bankers provide this information under the authority of a subpoena, which imposes a legal obligation. Second, if, as the Administration says, the program is legal, highly effective, and well protected against invasion of privacy, the bankers should have little trouble defending it. The Bush Administration and America itself may be unpopular in Europe these days, but policing the byways of international terror seems to have pretty strong support everywhere. And while it is too early to tell, the initial signs are that our article is not generating a banker backlash against the program.

Keller completely misses the point. Because the Times published the existence of this program, terrorists (like Hambali) who once believed their financial transfers to be safe will now change their habits to avoid detection, making them harder to catch. Keller had no right to publish information which would directly harm the security of the United States. Keller had no evidence this program was being misused or that it constituted a violation of everyone’s privacy. Keller published the story anyway in the hopes that it would make the Times money.

The press is free only because of those who safeguard that freedom. Keller’s crude attempts at sophistry don’t mask the fact that the public’s right to know in this case pales in comparison to the value of defending this nation against terrorism. Keller wants to argue that he’s being unfairly maligned as “unpatriotic” for this story – which given that it was profoundly unpatriotic for the Times to have revealed this information, he deserves what he’s getting.

The leaker of this program and the Times have unquestionably harmed national security. They have exposed a successful anti-terrorism program and given the enemy valuable intelligence that further hampers our ability to stop terrorism.

They should, and indeed must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

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