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The Beltway Boys analyze what’s wrong with Bill Keller and the New York Times

Sunday, July 9, 2006
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HH: Joined now by the Beltway boys from the Fox News Channel. You can watch Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke tomorrow night at 6pm in the East, 3PM in the West, and it repeats later in the evening. Fred at the Weekly Standard, Morton at Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Gentlemen, welcome. Did either of you see Charlie Rose and Bill Keller last night?

MK: I don’t watch Charlie Rose, usually.

HH: Okay. Fred?

FB: I don’t, either.

HH: All right. I’ve got to play you a few clips, because the first rule of holes to stop digging has been abandoned by Bill Keller in a big way. Cut number one.

CR: How many times in the last year have you had to make a decision in which the government asked you not to publish?

BK: A couple of times. I mean, there are so many of these choices that just come up in the course of events where nobody has to ask, you know, when you have reporters embedded with soldiers in Iraq, and they have access to operational intelligence. Obviously, we don’t publish that.

HH: Fred Barnes, do you believe that the New York Times has ever been asked successfully by the administration not to publish something?

FB: Successfully? No.

HH: Neither do I.

FB: I mean, in the case of the NSA eavesdropping program, which I believe was, and may still be, but I doubt it, fantastically successful in tracking down terrorists, they were asked not only by the President in person, but by…the White House arranged for them to see the chairs of the two House and Senate Intelligence Committees, plus the ranking Democrats, who all asked them not to run that story. And then they ran it without even telling the White House or those four Intelligence Committee members. No, it’s never…and it’s never been successfully stopped.

HH: All right. So he’s giving a false impression here. Let’s go to cut number two.

CR: Now that would be an issue for the country, would it not? I mean, that would be, some way, threatening to national security if people who had supported this program decided not to because of the publication.

BK: Sure. Well, it would, in theory, that would complicate matters, although…

CR: Made it a harder decision if you believed it for you?

BK: Yes, yes. Well, certainly, that’s something that we wrestled with a lot.

HH: Do you, Morton Kondracke, believe that the disclosure has hurt the SWIFT program’s participation of foreign countries? Because Bill Keller sits there and says he’s seen no evidence of that.

MK: Well, I haven’t seen any evidence of it, either. I mean, look, I don’t…look, what would I have done if the group that came, went to Keller, came to me? I would certainly give them the benefit of the doubt. I mean, especially when even it went beyond the Bush…even if I were, believed that the Bush administration were trying to expand executive authority illegitimately. If Tom Keane and Lee Hamilton and John Murtha came to me and asked me not to publish, I certainly would not publish. On the other hand, I don’t know that that particular disclosure hurt as much as the NSA spying thing. I think the NSA spying was worse in that the SWIFT activity, if you were al Qaeda, you would have a reasonable assumption that somehow, they were using SWIFT, because that’s the channel through which all this banking information goes, and it was well known that the administration was trying to track international banking transfers. But it’s a question of who you give the benefit of the doubt to, if there is a doubt. And in this case, the New York Times is so convinced that George Bush is a menace to civil liberties…

FB: Civilization.

HH: (laughing)

MK: …in the United States, that they will go with it. That’s the point.

HH: Next cut.

CR: Well, have these bankers said we’ll no longer participate in this, and therefore…because we don’t believe that the U.S. government can keep secrets?

BK: No, but you remember when we did the NSA eavesdropping story, one of the arguments the administration made was well, this was going to embarrass the telecommunications companies, and they’re going to stop giving us access to the nodes where the communications take place. And that hasn’t happened, either, which was, I have to say, a track record that we took into account when we weighed the pros and cons in publishing this story.

CR: That’s interesting. You took that track record, meaning they had less credibility this time than they did the last time you had to make a call?

BK: I think that’s fair to say, yes.

HH: Fred Barnes, he’s saying that because he hasn’t seen any evidence of damage done because of the NSA program…now why in the world would he assume he’d see evidence of damage done?

FB: Yeah, and of course, he was wrong about the wire transfers program. The Belgians, where the SWIFT program is running, Belgium, and Belgium is now reconsidering whether it wants to be a part of it at all.

HH: Exactly, as is Canada.

FB: And so it may be stopped as a result of the New York Times story. And look, here’s the other thing. How does Bill Keller, or Mort Kondracke for that matter, know what al Qaeda knows? Just because we know something in America because of a New York Times story, that doesn’t mean everybody around the world knows it. Would al Qaeda know, having not read…before the New York Times, know that it was not just wire transfers of money from the United States or Britain, it was from countries all over the world. And I think…I’m sure, or I suspect. I’m not sure. I suspect al Qaeda learned a lot from that New York Times story.

HH: Morton, in November of last year, Eric Lichtblau, one of the two reporters who broke the banking story about SWIFT, wrote a story about how the United States had failed to make a dent in al Qaeda financing, that they didn’t have in place any programs that were effectively tracking terrorist financing. And he wrote that, and it came to light because of the Powerline guys who went back and read all of his previous stories. If the New York Times, with all their resources, and Eric Lichtblau, with his Pulitzer, couldn’t find out about SWIFT in November of 2005, what makes us believe for a moment that every al Qaeda and terrorist in the world knew about it?

MK: I can’t answer that. I didn’t know that Eric Lichtblau had written that. That’s amazing.

HH: Oh, it is. And go to Powerline. It’s really one of the more damning things I’ve seen, and it’s not been acknowledged by the New York Times. They went looking for SWIFT in November, and they couldn’t find it, Fred Barnes.

FB: Yeah. No, I know that. I’ve seen…I read that Powerline article, and there’s just a fallacy in the thinking here, because we know something, because it’s been in our newspaper, that everybody in the world knows it, because the President has said we’re going to try to stop that financing, that all around the world they know, they assume that the U.S. knows everything about terrorist financing, which is just a fallacy.

HH: Let’s get to the next Bill Keller piece.

BK: Some of it clearly is political. I mean…

CR: Political? In what way?

BK: Well, you know, one of the more cynical members of my staff observed that a lot of the denunciations of the Times since this story published were from microphones at Republican Party fundraisers.

HH: Morton Kondracke…

MK: Whoooooa.

HH: You see? They’re living in a bubble.

MK: Yeah. Well, look. They are living in a bubble, and they’re only talking to each other inside the bubble. And you know, and the Upper West Side mentality, paranoia, has completely seized them. I mean, when you just talk to each other all the time, and you’re trying to top one another in Bush hatred, and Bush suspicion, and paranoia, that’s what the result is. Your policy, your decision making is affected by it, and it governs. It rules.

HH: Listen to this next one, Fred.

CR: They saw an opportunity, and therefore they jumped?

BK: Yeah. I don’t think it’s all that. I think they were genuinely upset. I think they really did not want us to publish this story. I think there’s an element of embarrassment here.

CR: Okay. That’s what I wanted to get at. Is it they’re embarrassed by what?

BK: I think they’re embarrassed by the fact that this is an administration that has put a high premium on holding its secrets close, and has not had a very good record of doing that.

CR: But that’s no reason to be as angry as they are, and throwing around a word like treason, is it?

BK: You probably should ask the people who are yelling treason.

CR: Well, I would like to.

HH: Fred Barnes, it’s delusional.

FB: You know, it’s taken my breath away to think that they’re mad because it shows they can’t keep secrets?

HH: That’s what he said.

FB: I know that’s what he said. That’s so preposterous. I mean, look. The one thing is clear that this was…I agree with Mort that the SWIFT program, the revelation of it was not nearly as damaging as the one about the NSA eavesdropping, but it was the final straw for so many people that might have tolerated the earlier disclosure by the New York Times, but when this comes along, a program that is patently legal, a program where they could cite no abuses, and now they’re going around, when people criticize them, with these silly claims about what the motives of their critics might be, the truth is the New York Times has lost this argument, and I think damaged the paper, probably irrevocably.

HH: I agree with that, and I’m going to post the audio of the Charlie Rose/Bill Keller information over at Radioblogger.com. Duane’s going to put it up at Radioblogger.com so everyone can listen to it, because it should not be missed. Very quickly, there’s criticism at the press conference today, Morton Kondracke, of whoever leaked the story to the Daily News, because the Daily News story has alerted terrorists that the FBI was on their trail, and a lot of leads aren’t going to get followed up. Have you heard this?

MK: I have heard it, and I think it’s a legitimate comment. Now who leaked it? My suspicion…well, how do I know? I don’t know, but my suspicion is that on the basis of qui bono, who benefits, that the Homeland Security Department in New York City, trying to get more money out of the federal government, leaked the story to prove that New York is still a target, and therefore, and to call attention to the centrality of New York as a target, therefore it ought to get more money. And you know, I think the New York Daily News probably shouldn’t have printed it. I don’t even know if the New York Daily News went to the FBI to ask them.

HH: Fred, do you agree with that?

FB: Well, I’m not sure. You know, they’ve arrested three of the eight. The other five might have known about that, but maybe they didn’t. And if the FBI asked them not to run the story now, they shouldn’t have.

HH: They should not have. I mean, loose lips sink ships. Fred Barnes, Morton Kondracke, a tired, old cliche, and maybe we’ve got to dust it off. Thanks for being here. The Beltway Boys tomorrow night at 6PM in the East, 3PM in the West.

End of interview.

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