Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Finding answers

Hugh asks the rhetorical question "What did they do?," in a couple of not-so-rhetorical posts today. The first offering here points us to Dennis Lormel, a 30-year veteran of the FBI with much to say about the revealing of the SWIFT program:

When the death scene of Bombay --and London, Madrid, Beslan, Jerusalem, Egypt,Jordan, Bali etc-- is recreated here, then will people look back at the recklessness of Bill Keller, Dean Baquet and other Bush-hating hyper-partisans and demand an accounting.

It may take a decade, or a generation, or even longer, but if these papers survive (and there is great doubt on that score at least as regards the Los Angeles Times) a day will come when their editors issue an apology for the fecklessness. It will be too late for some future victims, but like Walter Duranty, Keller and Baquet will eventually be discredited and their papers shamed.

If you missed it over the weekend, be sure to read the analysis by retired 30 year veteran of the FBI Dennis Lormell on the harm done by these papers. (Lormel's bio is here.) Then reread the accounts of the Bombay bombings.

Later in the day, this offering gets much more to the point in quoting Steve Levey the former Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, US Treasury. Mr. Levey makes the same point underscored with direct, personal knowledge of the program's effectiveness:

Some observers have argued that the disclosure of the program did little damage because terrorist facilitators are smart and already knew to avoid the banking system. They correctly point out that there has been an overall trend among terrorists towards cash couriers and other informal mechanisms of money transfer – a trend that I have testified about. They also hold up as public warnings the repeated assertions by government officials that we are actively following the terrorists’ money.

What we had not spoken about publicly, however, is this particular source. And, unfortunately, this revelation is very damaging. Since being asked to oversee this program by then-Secretary Snow and then-Deputy Secretary Bodman almost two years ago, I have received the written output from this program as part of my daily intelligence briefing. For two years, I have been reviewing that output every morning. I cannot remember a day when that briefing did not include at least one terrorism lead from this program. Despite attempts at secrecy, terrorist facilitators have continued to use the international banking system to send money to one another, even after September 11th. This disclosure compromised one of our most valuable programs and will only make our efforts to track terrorist financing --and to prevent terrorist attacks-- harder. Tracking terrorist money trails is difficult enough without having our sources and methods reported on the front page newspapers.

Hugh's speed-trap analogy is very appropros, as is the one that points out the difference between telling someone you live in Northern California and printing directions to your neighborhood--they are not at all the same thing, and the denier's talking points about how "everyone knew," are preposterous.

If this were a bad movie this is where the hapless protagonist would hold his head in his hands after the great moment of realization and ask plaintively, "What have I done!?"

Only it's the real world, with real consequences. What did we do to ourselves?

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