In case you missed it, another politician is jumping on the "let's prosecute reporters for treason" bandwagon. News reports have quoted U.S. Representative Peter King as saying he thinks the Bush Administration should go after The New York Times and others for the recent disclosures regarding government officials tracking international banking information.
And Bush is quoted today as saying he finds the publishing of the articles "disgraceful."
I guess there are some who think this argument has political legs, because it sure as hell doesn't on the merits. It's going to be interesting to see if they try to make good on their threats. I honestly don't know. But as I said on this blog and my column for The Legal Intelligencer, I think journalists and lawyers should go on the offensive.
I have to admit that personally, I'm not as troubled by the banking revelations. Given the IRS, credit bureaus, consolidation in the banking industry, etc., I always assumed the government would have easy access to my financial information.
If they want to see what I bought from Amazon, let them: this administration doesn't seem to read much, so I doubt they would know what to make of my purchases. Except for maybe the copy of the U.S. Army Ranger handbook I keep in my briefcase.
The program itself doesn't both me like the NSA eavesdropping for a number of reasons. First, the eavesdropping reeks of authoritarian government shenanigans, and the kind of abuses that Congress sought to correct in the 1970s.
Second, while I think it's horrible if someone in a fit of anger says something that catches the government's attention and causes them to be interrogated, I'm less concerned if they come under government scrutiny for sending money to or receiving money from, groups or individuals connected to terrorism. To me, money, unlike speech, is much more akin to a smoking gun in the war on terror.
Part of that perspective comes from a conversation I once had with someone who was involved in counter-terrorist investigations. The gist of what he said to me was: "We know where a lot of these guys are, we know they're connected; it's a matter of following the money and figuring out where it's coming from and where it's going to."
However, even though the banking program doesn't bother me as much, I'm not upset by newspapers reporting on it. I read those articles and I didn't come across anything that would tip off a terrorist on how to evade capture. And I have to believe that more than a few terrorists assumed many financial transactions would be watched post-9/11. I know I made that assumption.
In fact, I seem to remember reading in the papers not long after 9/11 that one of the difficulties law enforcement organizations had in following terrorist financing was the existence of certain unique & secretive types of financial networks in the Arab world (the exact term escapes me). Those articles suggested that a lot of terror financing came via those networks. So who knows how much of the banking surveillance has even helped.
I think part of the reason this tension is building -- aside from Bush's political weakness given his awful poll numbers -- is because the press and the public don't trust this administration, and this administration has never shown a fondness for openness or being straight with the American people.
So the press is digging and exposing, and the administration, rather than focus on explaining, is hinting that it's more interested in jailing.
--Hank Grezlak, Editor-in-Chief