Stuart Levey, the Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, is my first guest today. I just finished recording the interview. He flatly contradicts Bill Keller’s assertion that concern over assisting the terrorist was a “secondary argument,” made in a “half-hearted way.” It was the central argument he and Secretary Snow made to Times’ officials, with the Secretary making it to Mr. Keller. The Treasury stands by that assessment, and strongly so.
The papers helped terrorists elude capture. It is that simple and that damning.
The transcript will be up at Radioblogger.com later today.
I was also a guest on CNN’s Situation Room, appearing opposite the former ombudsman for the Washington Post, Geneva Overholser, who along with Wolf Blitzer are concerned that investigations into these leaks and possible prosecutions could chill the press. I think it would be a very goiod thing if we could chill the media’s publication of national security secrets the release of which aid terrorists. This very narrow restraint on the press in no way fetters its general and robust freedom to investigate and publish. But as Under secretary Levey makes clear in my interview, there remain many other classified programs the details of which –if made public– would cause significant damage to the war. To protect those secrets the government must pursue not just the leakers, but any media outlet that could lead us to the leakers. At a minimum this seems to mean a grand jury investigation with journalists as witnesses.
As Mr. Levey pointed out, the standard articulated by Bill Keller in his Sunday defense of Friday’s story puts out a standard that will, if unchanged, result in the publication of any secret the Times gets its hands on. The government is obliged to do its best within the law to prevent such disastrous disclosures.
And the House and Senate have an obligation to draft, debate and vote on a resolution expressing outrage over leaks of this sort. Before another harmful leak occurs, the Congress should make its voice heard.
The Vice President made this statement today:
THE VICE PRESIDENT: “In the decade prior to 9/11, we spent more than $2 trillion on national security. Yet we lost nearly 3,000 Americans at the hands of 19 men armed with box cutters and airline tickets. In the case of al Qaeda we are not dealing with large armies that we can track, or uniforms we can see, or men with territory of their own to defend. Their preferred tactic, which they boldly proclaim, is to slip into countries, blend in among the innocent, and kill without mercy and without restraint. They have intelligence and counterintelligence operations of their own. They are using the most sophisticated communications technology they can get their hands on.
“In pursuit of their objectives, they have carried out a number of attacks since 9/11 ‘” in Casablanca, Jakarta, Mombassa, Bali, Riyadh, Baghdad, Istanbul, Madrid, London, Sharm al-Sheikh, and elsewhere. Here in the U.S., we have not had another 9/11. Obviously, no one can guarantee that we won’t be hit again. But the relative safety of these past nearly five years now did not come about by accident. We’ve been protected by sensible policy decisions by the President, by decisive action at home and abroad, and by round-the-clock efforts on the part of the people in our armed forces, law enforcement, intelligence, and homeland security.
“Some in the press, in particular The New York Times, have made the job of defending against further terrorist attacks more difficult by insisting on publishing detailed information about vital national security programs.
“The first was the terrorist surveillance program. Sometimes the press calls it domestic surveillance, it is not domestic surveillance. It’s a program aimed at the communications that are international in nature ‘” at least one end of the communication has to be outside the United States, and one end has to be affiliated with or associated with al Qaeda.
“The second program that The New York Times has now disclosed is the terrorist financial tracking program, just within about the last week or so. These are both good programs. They provide valuable intelligence. They are very carefully managed to safeguard the civil liberties of the American people. They have been successful in helping break up terrorist plots. They are done in accordance with the Constitution, and there has in both cases ‘” both programs have been properly notified to the appropriate officials in the United States Congress.
“The New York Times has now twice ‘” two separate occasions ‘” disclosed programs; both times they had been asked not to publish those stories by senior administration officials. They went ahead anyway. The leaks to The New York Times and the publishing of those leaks is very damaging. The ability to intercept al Qaeda communications and to track their sources of financing are essential if we’re going to successfully prosecute the global war on terror. Our capabilities in these areas help explain why we have been so successful in preventing further attacks like 9/11. The New York Times has now made it more difficult for us to prevent attacks in the future. Publishing this highly classified information about our sources and methods for collecting intelligence will enable the terrorists to look for ways to defeat our efforts. These kinds of stories also adversely affect our relationships with people who work with us against the terrorists. In the future, they will be less likely to cooperate if they think the United States is incapable of keeping a secret.
“What is doubly disturbing for me is that not only have they gone forward with these stories, but they’ve been rewarded for it, for example, in the case of the terrorist surveillance program, by being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for outstanding journalism. I think that is a disgrace.”