||06-28-2006 03:11 PM
Terrorist funds-tracking no secret, some say
As Bush continues to chomp up the Constitution by selectively ignoring the courts and Congress, he may find it more difficult to overcome freedom of the press. In today's Globe, there's an article showing that the New York Times' (and others) information on the Swift program was already largely in the public record. Surely, the Bush administration knew this, and their only point in making an issue of it is to try to intimidate the media.
WASHINGTON -- News reports disclosing the Bush administration's use of a special bank surveillance program to track terrorist financing spurred outrage in the White House and on Capitol Hill, but some specialists pointed out yesterday that the government itself has publicly discussed its stepped-up efforts to monitor terrorist finances since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
On Monday, President Bush said it was "disgraceful" that The New York Times and other media outlets reported last week that the US government was quietly monitoring international financial transactions handled by an industry-owned cooperative in Belgium called the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Communication, or SWIFT, which is controlled by nearly 8,000 institutions in 20 countries. The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal also reported about the program.
The controversy continued to simmer yesterday when Senator Jim Bunning, a Republican of Kentucky, accused the Times of ``treason," telling reporters in a conference call that it "scares the devil out of me" that the media would reveal such sensitive information. Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, requested US intelligence agencies to assess whether the reports have damaged anti terrorism operations. And Representative Peter King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has urged Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez to pursue "possible criminal prosecution" of the Times, which has reported on other secret government surveillance programs. The New York Times Co. owns The Boston Globe.
But a search of public records -- government documents posted on the Internet, congressional testimony, guidelines for bank examiners, and even an executive order President Bush signed in September 2001 -- describe how US authorities have openly sought new tools to track terrorist financing since 2001. That includes getting access to information about terrorist-linked wire transfers and other transactions, including those that travel through SWIFT.