Newspapers Reject Government Request to Kill Story
Editor & Publisher
Thursday 22 June 2006
New York - The New York Times and Los Angeles Times on Friday published a major story on government surveillance of private banking records over the objections of the Bush administration.
The same team that produced the Pulitzer-winning National Security Agency (NSA) "domestic spying" program, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, put together the New York Times' piece. In the middle of the article, they reveal that the White House had asked the paper not to run it. This had happened with the NSA story as well, and the Times put off running the pair's key findings for a year.
"We know the terrorists pay attention to our strategy to fight them, and now have another piece of the puzzle of how we are fighting them," Dana Perino, a White House spokesman said late Thursday. "We also know they adapt their methods, which increases the challenge to our intelligence and law enforcement officials."
Perino added: "The president is concerned that once again The New York Times has chosen to expose a classified program that is working to protect our citizens."
The Risen-Lichtblau story reveals: "The Bush administration has made no secret of its campaign to disrupt terrorist financing, and President Bush, Treasury officials and others have spoken publicly about those efforts. Administration officials, however, asked The New York Times not to publish this article, saying that disclosure of the Swift program could jeopardize its effectiveness. They also enlisted several current and former officials, both Democrat and Republican, to vouch for its value.
"Bill Keller, the newspaper's executive editor, said: 'We have listened closely to the administration's arguments for withholding this information, and given them the most serious and respectful consideration. We remain convinced that the administration's extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial data, however carefully targeted use of it may be, is a matter of public interest.'
A top official eventually agreed to discuss the classified operation with the reporters after the Times editors told him of the newspaper's decision to go ahead with the story. The Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal also carried stories on the snooping operation on Friday.
The L.A. Times story related: "Bush administration officials asked The Times not to publish information about the program, contending that disclosure could damage its effectiveness and that sufficient safeguards are in place to protect the public."
Dean Baquet, editor of that newspaper, said, "We weighed the government's arguments carefully, but in the end we determined that it was in the public interest to publish information about the extraordinary reach of this program. It is part of the continuing national debate over the aggressive measures employed by the government."
The New York Times article opens: "Under a secret Bush administration program initiated weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, counterterrorism officials have gained access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the United States, according to government and industry officials.
"The program is limited, government officials say, to tracing transactions of people suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda by reviewing records from the nerve center of the global banking industry, a Belgian cooperative [known as Swift] that routes about $6 trillion daily between banks, brokerages, stock exchanges and other institutions. The records mostly involve wire transfers and other methods of moving money overseas and into and out of the United States. Most routine financial transactions confined to this country are not in the database."
The complete story can be found at www.nytimes.com.