Monday, June 26, 2006

"We're from the government. Trust us."

Of course, the central issue here is: what was the program?

"We're at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America," the president said. "What we were doing was the right thing."

"The American people expect this government to protect our constitutional liberties and at the same time make sure we understand what the terrorists are trying to do," Bush said. He said that to figure out what terrorists plan to do, "You try to follow their money. And that's exactly what we're doing and the fact that a newspaper disclosed it makes it harder to win this war on terror."
It used to be one of the "three great lies" (along with "We're from the IRS, we're her to help you" and either "The check is in the mail" or something more scatological I won't repeat) was: "We're the government. Trust us."

And the very people who tried to turn that joke into a serious critique of the government, were people like Tony Snow:

"Certainly nobody is going to deny First Amendment rights. But the New York Times and other news organizations ought to think long and hard about whether a public's right to know in some cases might override somebody's right to live," Snow said. "And whether, in fact, the publication...could place in jeopardy the safety of fellow Americans."
Power corrupts, after all, and power consumes nothing so quickly as it does idealism. Sometimes I think of it as merely the fuel for power's fire. Holden has Mr. Snow's attempted defense (and refusal to give details, as well) of this program here.

Still no mention from Mr. Bush or Mr. Snow was to what the program is (so apparently the NYT, the WSJ, and the LA Times, got that much of the story right). But I note while they won't tell the American people, apparently they will tell the international banking community, which I'm sure will want more than vague reassurances:

Tony Fratto, chief spokesman for the Treasury Department, said the contacts were made following the disclosure. "We have made a point of reaching out to our partners in the international community to make sure they understand our views and the safeguards we have in place," he said. "We want to make sure it was clear to our partners that we value this program."


[NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller] said part of the government's argument was that the anti-terror program would no longer be effective if it became known, because international bankers would be unwilling to cooperate and terrorists would find other ways to move money.

"We don't know what the banking consortium will do, but we found this argument puzzling," Keller said, pointing out that the banks were under subpoena to provide the information. "The Bush Administration and America itself may be unpopular in Europe these days, but policing the byways of international terror seems to have pretty strong support everywhere."
And then the whole argument turns on the childish notion that, if the American public doesn't know something, nobody knows it, including terrorists:

Keller said the administration also argued "in a halfhearted way" that disclosure of the program "would lead terrorists to change tactics."

But Keller wrote that the Treasury Department has "trumpeted ... that the U.S. makes every effort to track international financing of terror. Terror financiers know this, which is why they have already moved as much as they can to cruder methods. But they also continue to use the international banking system, because it is immeasurably more efficient than toting suitcases of cash."
We are, in other words, apparently happy to be treated like children playing "peek a boo!" So long as things are hidden from us, they are hidden from everyone! (Sadly, more often than note this argument works.)

The interesting thing is, they keep claiming terrorists were "brought to justice" using this program. But the only terrorist prosecutions I know of, other than the "shoe bomber" and the Hamdi case, are the Miami 7. Mr. Snow refers to the arrest of Riduan Isamuddin, known by his nom de guerre Hambali. According to Wikipedia, Hambali was captured in Thailand, in a joint operation between the Thai police and the CIA. But he is currently being held in secret custody by the CIA, allegedly in Jordan. Which would indicate the government isn't too keen on using the information from this 5 year old "emergency" program to prosecute criminal cases. For that we rely on informants and government largesse. It also means this program is not about using the legal system, but just about using government power.

So when Bush says: "The disclosure of this program is disgraceful," he means you can't protect a democracy from all enemies, foreign and domestic, unless you have absolute power to do so. Especially when one of those enemies is a free press.

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