The president called the Times’ report detailing the terrorist banking records program “disgraceful.”
President Bush on Monday sharply condemned the disclosure of a program to secretly monitor the financial transactions of suspected terrorists. “The disclosure of this program is disgraceful,” he said.
“For people to leak that program and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America,” Bush said, jabbing his finger for emphasis. He said the disclosure of the program “makes it harder to win this war on terror.”
The program has been going on since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. It was disclosed last week by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.
Using broad government subpoenas, the program allows U.S. counterterrorism analysts to obtain financial information from a vast database maintained by a company based in Belgium. It routes about 11 million financial transactions daily among 7,800 banks and other financial institutions in 200 countries.
“Congress was briefed and what we did was fully authorized under the law,” Bush said, talking with reporters in the Roosevelt Room after meeting with groups that support U.S. troops in Iraq.
“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.”
Watch the video of President Bush making these statements. He is justifiably angry. The Times has tried to undermine his national security efforts over and over again: first with the disclosure of the NSA terrorist surveillance program, then the phone records database program, and now the terrorist finance tracking operation.
As we have already heard, the Times has argued that the information was in the public interest. This argument is not only weak but frightening as well because the definition of what is in the public interest is so subjective that almost anything could be classified in that manner. E.D. Hill made a similar argument this morning on Fox and Friends. She argued that if the NY Times of today had existed in the days of WWII and received leaked information about the Normandy invasion, the Times would have published it under the guise that it was in the public interest to inform the American people of an invasion that was expected to cost so many of our servicemen’s lives.
E.D.’s argument is theoretical, of course, but it puts the Times’ “public interest” argument into perspective.
Ed Morrissey also commented on President Bush’s remarks about the New York Times and has excerpted part of the 9/11 Commission Report which recommended going after the terrorists’ finances.
Update: Check out Instapundit‘s response to Bill Keller’s defense of the New York Times. Here’s a portion:
A deeper error is Keller’s characterization of freedom of the press as an institutional privilege, an error that is a manifestation of the hubris that has marked the NYT of late. Keller writes: “It’s an unusual and powerful thing, this freedom that our founders gave to the press. . . . The power that has been given us is not something to be taken lightly.”
The founders gave freedom of the press to the people, they didn’t give freedom to the press. Keller positions himself as some sort of Constitutional High Priest, when in fact the “freedom of the press” the Framers described was also called “freedom in the use of the press.” It’s the freedom to publish, a freedom that belongs to everyone in equal portions, not a special privilege for the media industry. (A bit more on this topic can be found here.)