In an exclusive interview with The Examiner, Chertoff criticized newspapers that revealed the financial tracking program on Friday. President Bush earlier complained that some of the same newspapers damaged national security by disclosing a classified terrorist surveillance program.So, you see, if the press would stop doing it's job, the White House could stop worrying about whether or not its secrets will be kept.
"Not only have these individual releases of classified stuff been damaging, but in the aggregate, it has led to a general impression that nothing is a secret and that causes people to ever more closely hold the information,"
Chertoff told The Examiner in his Washington office on Friday. "That's having a real damaging effect."
The damage is particularly acute at the White House, Chertoff said.
"You actually deprive the decision makers and the president of the ability to get the full range of advice because - if the president has to worry that
talking to people who have important things to say is going to result in something getting out - he's not going to have that conversation.
"And that's going to drive exactly the kind of insularity that the press claims they don,t like," he said.
This is the program, by the way:
Treasury Secretary John Snow called the financial-records effort "government at its best" and said it was "entirely consistent with our democratic values, with our best legal traditions."And in case you don't feel good about it:
The program, kept secret until it was revealed Thursday by news organizations, has been going on since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Using broad government subpoenas, the program allows U.S. counterterrorism analysts to obtain financial information from a vast database maintained by a company based in Belgium. It routes about 11 million financial transactions daily among 7,800 banks and other financial institutions in 200 countries.
"By following the money, we've been able to locate operatives, we've been able to locate their financiers, we've been able to chart the terrorist networks and we've been able to bring the terrorists to justice," Snow said. "If people are sending money to help al-Qaida, we want to know about it."
At a separate news conference, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the Justice Department had reviewed the program "and we believe it is lawful."Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? Well, are you an American, or a terrorist?
Snow declined to give specific examples of where the program had been successful in shutting off terrorist financing but said that he had assured himself that it was working.
Edward Yingling of the American Bankers Association said banks were working to strike the right balance between "protecting customer privacy and stopping terrorist financing." Some officials of foreign banks were less supportive.And so long as you don't have contact with furriners:
"We had no idea this was going on at all," said James Nason with the Swiss Bankers Association.
Republicans defended the financial program, saying that it made sense in trying to track down terrorists.
"I think that the tracking of the financing of terrorism trumps most things," said Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala.
Snow said that "very significant protocols and safeguards" had been put in place to protect Americans' privacy. Officials said that for the most part, Americans would not come under the scrutiny of the program unless they were transferring or receiving money from abroad.This would include your humble host, who wired money to his daughter when she was visiting China last summer. But despite the fact that:
Using broad government subpoenas, the program allows U.S. counterterrorism analysts to obtain financial information from a vast database maintained by a company based in Belgium. It routes about 11 million financial transactions daily among 7,800 banks and other financial institutions in 200 countries.It's the federal government; you can trust them. Right? After all, there are safeguards:
For the Swift transaction data to be reviewed, investigators have to produce the name of someone they suspect of terrorist links, a requirement that officials said keeps the government from launching fishing expeditions into the vast data pool.And everyone in Gitmo is a dangerous terrorist who can never be released. Except for the ones we've already released. And the ones we can't yet release, because no one else wants them.
We're from the government. Trust us.
P.S. And if there is any doubt FoxNews is the house organ of the GOP, Neil Cavuto last night (why did I stop the channel changer there?) was all over this topic: the topic of the leak, not the program. Clearly, in order to save democracy, we're going to have to destroy it.