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Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times

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Doyle McManus is the Washington, D.C. bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times.

To his credit, he came on the program for about 15 minutes of Q & A. The transcript is here.

McManus concedes that it is possible that the SWIFT story damaged our counterterrorism efforts and assisted terrorists in eluding capture:

HH: Is it possible, in your view, Doyle McManus, that the story will in fact help terrorists elude capture?

DM: I did…I neither believed it nor disbelieved it. I would believe I took that seriously. It’s impossible for me to evaluate independently to what degree…whether the potential assistance to terrorists…I think they actually didn’t argue that it would help terrorists. They argued that it would disadvantage, or make more difficult, counter-terrorist programs. But that’s probably a distinction without a difference. What…would that be momentous? Would it be marginal? I don’t know.

HH: Is it possible, in your view, Doyle McManus, that the story will in fact help terrorists elude capture?

DM: It is conceivable, yeah, although it might be worth noting that in our reporting, officials told us that this would, this disclosure would probably not affect al Qaeda, which figured out long ago that the normal banking system was not how it ought to move its money, and so turned to other unofficial and informal channels.

HH: The terrorist Hambali came up. He was captured in August of ’03, mastermind/financier of the Bali bombing. Are you familiar with Hambali?

DM: I am.

HH: And did they alert you to the fact that they believe that Hambali was captured as a result of this SWIFT program?

DM: They did not. The first I knew of that was when I read it in the New York Times.

HH: Is it possible now that whoever was familiar with what Hambali did, those terrorists in Southeast Asia, could just simply reverse engineer his financing, and figure out what they shouldn’t do now?

DM: Well, I suppose it’s possible, except in effect, what we’re talking about here is the simple question of whether international banking transmissions are monitored….

He also conceded –to his great credit, and without equivocation– that the press enjoys no exemption from the national security laws, as well as the possibility that he or others from the paper would answer questions about the paper’s sources before a grand jury:

HH: Sure. Do you agree, Doyle McManus, that the press has no exemption from the national security statutes?

DM: I do agree with that.

HH: And if called before a grand jury, would you reveal the sources in the government that leaked you this information?

DM: That would be a judgment that we would have to make at that time.

HH: So it’s possible that you would?

DM: That would depend on the nature of the pledges we made to those sources.

HH: So it’s possible that that, in fact, would reveal who it is that’s leaking this?

DM: It’s hypothetically possible, yeah.

The Los Angeles Times didn’t do much agonizing once it was informed that the New York Times was going with the story:

HH: Now what I’m wondering, though, is, how did you balance? What probability did you assign to the terrorist tack that doesn’t get stopped because of this story?

DM: Well, I can’t give you a mathematical formula on that. And as a matter of fact, when we made our decision to publish our story, the New York Times had already published its. So as a matter of fact, we had not had the set of discussions that we had scheduled on precisely how to balance that. So in a sense, I can’t tell you how we balanced it, because we ended up not coming to a final decision. Now I don’t mean to be disingenuous. We were certainly leaning in the direction of publishing, but we hadn’t finally decided to.

Finally, this exchange went to the abilities of journalists to make these judgments:

HH: Time for just a couple more questions. I hope you’ll come back, Mr. McManus. Are you and the folks at the Los Angeles Times qualified to evaluate the terrorist networks, their sophistication in how they respond to information, from classified information?

DM: Well, we are journalists, we’re qualified to go ask the smartest people we can find those questions, and that’s about the best we can do.

HH: Did anyone who would go on the record tell you this would have no significant damage to the counter-terrorism effort?

DM: I don’t believe anyone made that unqualified statement, no.

HH: Given that you couldn’t find anyone to tell you that it wouldn’t be damaging, wouldn’t the necessary conclusion be that it would be?

DM: That’s a reasonable inference. But we did…there were people who told us that they believed that the damage, if any, would be minimal.

There’s more as well, so read the entire exchange.

Now all we need is the investigation into who the leakers are –before another leak again damages the effort to capture or kill terrorists.

UPDATE: The Wolf Blitzer-Bill Keller transcript is here.

The transcript of my debate with former WaPo ombudsman Geneva Overholser moderated by Wolf Blitzer is here (scroll down.)


Newsbusters comments.


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