Friday, June 30, 2006

I smell a different agenda here - Part 1

This is my last in a long series of posts trying to debate the rights and wrongs of the New York Times' "treason" in its article of 19 June detailing the sources used by the US government in tracking the funding of terrorist organisations.

For some reason that none have been able to explain, the NYT article "places Americans in jeopardy, will result in American troops being killed..."

Admittedly, all of this has come from just one blogsite, that of neo-neocon. Her original thread was mostly thoughtful, but very much "followed the FoxNews line".

Well, how valid is the argument? This sets out the position well...

OK, so I will troll this for y'all...

Falsehood: Times article tipped off terrorists to U.S. bank-tracking efforts

In the wake of the June 23 Times article, Bush administration officials and numerous conservative media figures claimed that the newspaper had informed terrorists that their international transactions were being monitored. Vice President Dick Cheney said that the story "will enable the terrorists to look for ways to defeat our efforts." Treasury Secretary John W. Snow wrote that the article had "alerted terrorists to the methods and sources used to track their money trails." Meanwhile, right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin claimed that the Times had "tipped off terrorists to America's efforts to track their financial activities." Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby alleged that the reports on the program "sabotaged" and "deliberately compromised a crucial counterterrorism tool." And the editors of National Review warned, "The terrorists will now adapt. They will find new ways of transferring funds, and precious lines of intelligence will be lost."

But long before June 23, Bush and other administration officials acknowledged that terrorists were increasingly using other methods of transferring money to evade detection.

So, it is as I had said, that the terrorists were already using other methods of transferring funds BEFORE July 21.

BUSH said so...

Again -

That terrorist organizations would be aware of international efforts to track their finances is not surprising, as Bush administration officials have publicly touted the government's capability to do so for years. For instance, shortly after 9-11, Bush heralded the establishment of a "foreign terrorist asset tracking center at the Department of the Treasury to identify and investigate the financial infrastructure of the international terrorist networks." On November 7, 2001, then-Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill announced that the United States, along with an "international coalition," had begun "to block assets, to seize books, records and evidence, and to follow audit trails to track terrorist cells poised to do violence to our common interests." In a September 10, 2004, statement, the Treasury Department disclosed "some of the many weapons used against terrorist networks," which included "following money trails to previously unknown terrorist cells." An April 2006 Treasury Department report similarly noted that the department "follows the terrorists' money trails aggressively, exploits them for intelligence, and severs links where we can."

Next point -

Falsehood: Nobody has questioned the legality of the Treasury Dept. program

Conservative media figures such as Fox News host Bill O'Reilly and right-wing pundit Ann Coulter have claimed that "no one thinks" the bank-tracking program "violates any laws." But as Media Matters noted, various legal experts and politicians have publicly questioned the legality of the newly disclosed program.

And again...

Falsehood: Times' justification for bank-tracking story opens the door to disclosure of any classified information

Appearing on the June 27 edition of Fox News' Special Report, attorney David B. Rivkin Jr. claimed that the Times' justification for publishing the June 23 article -- that the story is a matter of "public interest" -- would allow the media to print details of a hypothetical upcoming attack on Osama bin Laden. "Under this standard, nothing is safe," Rivkin said. "I can see a headline which says, 'Tomorrow, United States Closing on bin Laden.' You know, he is two hours away, in a cave."


in the 1931 case Near v. Minnesota, the Supreme Court stated the government could prevent newspapers and magazines from publishing select matters, including upcoming troop movements in a time of war: "No one would question but that a government might prevent actual obstruction to its recruiting service or the publication of the sailing dates of transports or the number and location of troops."


in his concurrence in the 1971 case New York Times v. United States, Justice William Brennan cited this passage from Near to describe the "single, extremely narrow class of cases in which the First Amendment's ban on prior judicial restraint may be overridden." Justice Potter Stewart, in another concurrence, argued that publication should be prevented only if "disclosure of any of them [the documents at issue] will surely result in direct, immediate, and irreparable damage to our Nation or its people" -- a standard that the administration evidently thought the bank-tracking story did not meet, as there is no indication that the administration asked a court to enjoin publication

From another article...

the United Nations Al Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Group learned of the SWIFT program years ago -- a fact the group incorporated into its December 2002 report to the U.N. Security Council:

The settlement of international transactions is usually handled through correspondent banking relationships or large-value message and payment systems, such as the SWIFT, Fedwire or CHIPS systems in the United States of America. Such international clearance centres are critical to processing international banking transactions and are rich with payment information. The United States has begun to apply new monitoring techniques to spot and verify suspicious transactions. The Group recommends the adoption of similar mechanisms by other countries.

Nonetheless, Tony Snow asserted during his June 27 press briefing, "I am absolutely sure they [the terrorists] didn't know about SWIFT."

The claim that the Times notified terrorists that their financial transactions might be under surveillance also overlooks numerous reports that Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations shifted to nontraditional money flows shortly after 9-11. For instance, Treasury Department undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence Stuart A. Levey testified before Congress on September 22, 2004, that the government had begun "working closely" with FATF to interdict terrorist organizations' increased use of cash. Levey said, "As the formal and informal financial sectors become increasingly inhospitable to financiers of terrorism, we have witnessed an increasing reliance by Al Qaida and terrorist groups on cash couriers. The movement of money via cash couriers is now one of the principal methods that terrorists use to move funds."

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has repeatedly highlighted the terrorists' new financial methods as well. In a December 6, 2002, report, CRS noted that "al Qaeda is relying increasingly on non-bank mechanisms to move and store funds, such as converting assets to untraceable commodities, including gold and diamonds, or moving funds via informal value transfer ['hawala'] systems that leave virtually no paper trail." In a November 2003 report, CRS further documented these "alternative financing mechanisms" and noted the failure on the part of the government to produce corresponding strategies.

A December 14, 2003, Washington Post article quoted Comras making a similar point:

Victor Comras, a former State Department official who helped write the U.N. report, said that, in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist strikes, the United States and other countries effectively froze some terrorist assets, but that the success was largely limited to halting money in the banking system.

Once al Qaeda understood the weaknesses and loopholes in the sanctions regime, Comras said, "money was quickly moved out of harm's way" by taking it out of banks and putting it into commodities, such as diamonds and gold, or into front companies.

"Al Qaeda had assets, and those assets are still around," Comras said. "They had a number of different ways to handle the problem, and they are using all of them."

An October 14, 2005, Economist article also noted the ongoing adaptation on the part of terrorist organizations:

Indeed, the terrorists have shown an ability to keep changing their money flows. "The bad guys are definitely getting smarter," says a European expert on financial crime. "The banking system is so well patrolled they're resorting to more primitive means." Counter-terror experts say some groups have simply switched to using more cash, slipping across borders undetected. Authorities say they recognise the changing money flows, but cutting them off is no simple matter, particularly in cash-based economies with loose border controls.

Further, an April 4, 2006, backgrounder on terrorist financing produced by the Council of Foreign Relations highlighted terrorists' efforts to leave "less of a paper trail":

The greatest difficulty is that terrorist networks have stayed aware of governments' efforts to stymie their activities and adjust their operations accordingly. [Terrorism expert Loretta] Napoleoni says "terrorist financing mutates continuously," which generally keeps terrorists a step ahead of the authorities.

Terrorists have increasingly relied on illegal activities, like smuggling or counterfeiting, to generate revenue that is difficult to track through the financial system. Terrorists have also begun to rely more on cash, leaving less of a paper trail. According to Napoleoni, much of the funding for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda organization in Iraq is brought into the country by couriers carrying cash. The July 2005 attacks in London were also funded entirely by cash, which Napoleoni says is untraceable.

OK, so have at it.

And thanks MediaMatters.


It perhaps is easy for me, as I work in the realms of SWIFT, FedWire, Giro, and some of the others on a regular basis. It is my job.

But little quotes leap out at me, like -
Nonetheless, Tony Snow asserted during his June 27 press briefing, "I am absolutely sure they [the terrorists] didn't know about SWIFT."

Oh-...Kay. If I go into a bank to transfer funds between countries, one of the very first things that leaps out at you is a little panel on the form that says -

Now, does Tony Snow (and because the right whingers are told that it is so they also) believe that a person responsible for shuffling a million or three around the globe to the right person at the other end would not know, would not ask, what that was, or meant, or why it was on the form? I mean to say, put some credulity into your interpretation of the propaganda you are given.

But no, the mere fact that NYT has printed / published the fact that SWIFT was being used to investigate terrorist funding is enough to raise the hounds of hell on the trail of treason charges.

Another thing completely missed by the right crowd is the effect that the loss of one small piece from the board might have. Does the right crowd believe that a terorrist organisation would not miss a link in the funding chain, would not investigate where that link was broken, would not try and find alternative paths and methods?

Of course! These are, after all, stupid and dumb ragheads we are talking about. They would never realise that the most obvious (and as MediaMatters points out, much discussed) funding routes would fail. Of course they would never think to use more than just the banks.


As I pointed out in an earlier post to that thread, the terrorist networks were using couriers, alternative values such as gold and diamonds, from as early as 2003, and acknowledged in some of the reports MM quotes in 2004.

Why does the US administration want to discredit the NYT?

Who might be next on their "hit list"?

I suggest -

It has nothing to do with the June 19 article. It has far more to do with the stance that NYT is taking, the criticism it levels at the Administration.

Put onto your list WaPo, Reuters, CNN, and the other MSM who have taken the Administration to task over (specifically) -

The protection of the rights of individuals vs the right of the government to investigate "ultra-legally"

The Gitmo retention centre

"Renditioning" of prisoners.

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