What Did the New York Times and Los Angeles Times Do?
From testimony of Stuart Levey, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, U.S. Department of the Treasury before the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations:
In short, the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program has been powerful and successful, grounded in law and bounded by safeguards. It represents exactly what I believe our citizens expect and hope we are doing to prosecute the war on terror.
Much has been said and written about the newspapers’ decision to publish information about this program. As a government official, I must first point out that the newspapers almost certainly would not have known about this program if someone had not violated his or her duty to protect this secret.
At the same time, I do very much regret the newspapers’ decision to publish what they knew. Secretary Snow and I, as well as others both inside and outside the government, made repeated, painstaking efforts to convince them otherwise. We urged that the story be held for one reason only: revealing it would undermine one of our most valuable tools for tracking terrorists’ money trails. We were authorized to set these arguments out for the relevant reporters and editors in an effort to convince them not to publish. In a series of sober and detailed meetings over several weeks, we carefully explained the program’s importance as well as its legal basis and controls. We strongly urged them not to reveal the source of our information and explained that disclosure would unavoidably compromise this vital program.
These were not attempts to keep an embarrassing secret from emerging. As should be clear from my testimony above, I am extremely proud of this program. I am proud of the officials and lawyers in our government whose labors ensured that the program was constructed and maintained in the most careful way possible. And I am proud of the intelligence analysts across our government who have used this information responsibly to advance investigations of terrorist groups and to make our country safer. I asked the press to withhold the story because I believed