A secret counter-terror operation exposed

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times today disclosed the existence of a secret, but entirely legal, program to monitor financial transactions between America and overseas nations. A priceless counter—terrorism tool may have been rendered ineffectual. 

For certain kinds of funds transactions there is a nerve center, a Belgian cooperative that routes about 6 trillion dollars daily between banks, brokerages, stock exchanges and other institutions. This is where the program was focused.

The goal was to trace financial flows between people previously suspected of having Al Qaeda or other terror ties. The operation, up till now anyway, has proven a success:

[The program] has provided clues to money trails and ties between possible terrorists and groups financing them, the officials said. In some instances, they said, the program has pointed them to new suspects, while in others it has buttressed cases already under investigation.

Among the successes was the capture of a Qaeda operative, Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, believed to be the mastermind of the 2002 bombing of a Bali resort, several officials said. The Swift data identified a previously unknown figure in Southeast Asia who had financial dealings with a person suspected of being a member of Al Qaeda; that link helped locate Hambali in Thailand in 2003, they said.

In the United States, the program has provided financial data in investigations into possible domestic terrorist cells as well as inquiries of Islamic charities with suspected of having links to extremists, the officials said.

The data also helped identify a Brooklyn man who was convicted on terrorism—related charges last year, the officials said. The man, Uzair Paracha, who worked at a New York import business, aided a Qaeda operative in Pakistan by agreeing to launder $200,000 through a Karachi bank, prosecutors said.

Before, civil libertarians rush to the defense of this disclosure, they should bear in mind that, as admitted by the New York Times, the program is entirely legal. The administration has briefed the members of Congress entitled to know of the program with nary a protest. (Of course, this will change if the issue becomes politically potent. Then there will be a chorus of feigned outrage that Tia Maria's money orders are being spied upon.)

The terror—supporting Times felt free to disclose this legal and highly effective program. Now the subjects of future investigations are on notice. In Stephen Spruiell's words,

The program has built—in safeguards to prevent abuse. And yet, with nothing more than a vague appeal to the "public interest" (which apparently is not outweighed in this case by the public's interest in apprehending terrorists), the NYT disregards all that and publishes intimate, classified details about the program. Keller and his team really do believe they are above the law. When it comes to national security, it isn't the government that should decide when secrecy is essential to a program's effectiveness. It is the New York Times.

Money is the oxygen that fuels terrorism. Funds are needed to spread hate in mosques and schools, to pay for terror operations, which often take years of planning and preparation. So money flows are the jugular veins, necessary for survival but vulnerable. The tracing of money flows has won important cases.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on the destruction of terror cells that were traced with American help, by monitoring money flows from America's Western Union company to terror groups in Israel.

Florida Professor Sami Al—Arian was defended almost as a martyr by the New York Times' Nicholas Kristoff in his columns. Al Arian was confronted with evidence that he served as a conduit for fundraising activities on behalf of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group responsible for the deaths of many innocent people in Israel. He pleaded guilty to  conspiracy

"to make or receive contributions of funds, goods or services to or for the benefit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a Specially Designated Terrorist [sic], in violation of 18 U.S.C. 371."

He was recently sentenced to the maximum 57 months in prison and then will be deported. Similar stories of American money funding terror abound.

The need for cutting off funds to terror groups is now widely recognized. One of the reasons there has been such mayhem in the world today is that there are people and governments more than willing to spread hatred and pay for murder. Saddam Hussein, for example, rewarded the families of homicide bombers by paying them thousands of dollars. Iran is the number one terror supporting nation in the world today; they are the paymasters of terror.

Preventing death and destruction is one of the reasons the EU and America have been diligently working on financing mechanism that assure aid sent to the Palestinian is not used to support terror—for such terror not only hurts its victims but also the groups from which terrorists emanate. When Israel is forced to defend itself, Palestinians suffer —not just from civilians being accidentally killed, because terrorists in effect use them as humans shields but also because the endemic violence impoverishes and corrupts their society.  Ensuring that flows of funds are used properly is a means to prevent death and destruction and save innocent lives. 
 
Now terrorists will find other mechanisms to fund their operations. The cash transfers made through the Arabic system of Hawala http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawala will be increasingly tapped, as will smuggling of cash throughout the region. Hamas has been forced to smuggle suit boxes of cash, recently $20 million, into Gaza to pay for terror operations, because foreign lending institutions are reluctant to serve as conduits for money being transferred  into the region.
 
The Times routinely talk of the need to spend more money on welfare and foreign aid to spread peace and tranquility throughout the world. The logical corollary of this would be that stopping the flow of money to terror groups would be a necessary complement to these efforts. Furthermore, stopping terror would save lives.

Apparently, this simple logic escapes the Times. It preens as if on the side of the angels, but is on the side of the devils, again.

Ed Lasky  6 23 06

Thomas Lifson updates:

Gabriel Schoenfeld, the editor of Commentary,  is quoted by Josh Gerstein, and voices one of the reactions I had: that the Times is actually courting prosecution.

Pinch Sulzberger has a desperate need to prove his greatness, his worthiness as heir to the dynasty. Some of his projects have been flops, one current biggie, the billion dollar skyscraper headquarters, is causing the company's credit rating to decline, and the paper is number three in circulation in New York itself.

I can't read Pinch's mind, but I wonder if he thinks that Bush would never dare indict him or his company. Or perhaps he thinks a prosecution would never get anywhere because the public outrage would bring down the Bush government. I don't know what he thinks about life in prison.

Schoenfeld points out that today's story doesn't involve the disclosure of intelligence information, so it is unlikely to be the basis for a prosecution. But by inflicting harm on the national security, it contributes to an atmosphere in which such a prosecution becomes more likely.

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times today disclosed the existence of a secret, but entirely legal, program to monitor financial transactions between America and overseas nations. A priceless counter—terrorism tool may have been rendered ineffectual. 

For certain kinds of funds transactions there is a nerve center, a Belgian cooperative that routes about 6 trillion dollars daily between banks, brokerages, stock exchanges and other institutions. This is where the program was focused.

The goal was to trace financial flows between people previously suspected of having Al Qaeda or other terror ties. The operation, up till now anyway, has proven a success:

[The program] has provided clues to money trails and ties between possible terrorists and groups financing them, the officials said. In some instances, they said, the program has pointed them to new suspects, while in others it has buttressed cases already under investigation.

Among the successes was the capture of a Qaeda operative, Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, believed to be the mastermind of the 2002 bombing of a Bali resort, several officials said. The Swift data identified a previously unknown figure in Southeast Asia who had financial dealings with a person suspected of being a member of Al Qaeda; that link helped locate Hambali in Thailand in 2003, they said.

In the United States, the program has provided financial data in investigations into possible domestic terrorist cells as well as inquiries of Islamic charities with suspected of having links to extremists, the officials said.

The data also helped identify a Brooklyn man who was convicted on terrorism—related charges last year, the officials said. The man, Uzair Paracha, who worked at a New York import business, aided a Qaeda operative in Pakistan by agreeing to launder $200,000 through a Karachi bank, prosecutors said.

Before, civil libertarians rush to the defense of this disclosure, they should bear in mind that, as admitted by the New York Times, the program is entirely legal. The administration has briefed the members of Congress entitled to know of the program with nary a protest. (Of course, this will change if the issue becomes politically potent. Then there will be a chorus of feigned outrage that Tia Maria's money orders are being spied upon.)

The terror—supporting Times felt free to disclose this legal and highly effective program. Now the subjects of future investigations are on notice. In Stephen Spruiell's words,

The program has built—in safeguards to prevent abuse. And yet, with nothing more than a vague appeal to the "public interest" (which apparently is not outweighed in this case by the public's interest in apprehending terrorists), the NYT disregards all that and publishes intimate, classified details about the program. Keller and his team really do believe they are above the law. When it comes to national security, it isn't the government that should decide when secrecy is essential to a program's effectiveness. It is the New York Times.

Money is the oxygen that fuels terrorism. Funds are needed to spread hate in mosques and schools, to pay for terror operations, which often take years of planning and preparation. So money flows are the jugular veins, necessary for survival but vulnerable. The tracing of money flows has won important cases.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on the destruction of terror cells that were traced with American help, by monitoring money flows from America's Western Union company to terror groups in Israel.

Florida Professor Sami Al—Arian was defended almost as a martyr by the New York Times' Nicholas Kristoff in his columns. Al Arian was confronted with evidence that he served as a conduit for fundraising activities on behalf of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group responsible for the deaths of many innocent people in Israel. He pleaded guilty to  conspiracy

"to make or receive contributions of funds, goods or services to or for the benefit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a Specially Designated Terrorist [sic], in violation of 18 U.S.C. 371."

He was recently sentenced to the maximum 57 months in prison and then will be deported. Similar stories of American money funding terror abound.

The need for cutting off funds to terror groups is now widely recognized. One of the reasons there has been such mayhem in the world today is that there are people and governments more than willing to spread hatred and pay for murder. Saddam Hussein, for example, rewarded the families of homicide bombers by paying them thousands of dollars. Iran is the number one terror supporting nation in the world today; they are the paymasters of terror.

Preventing death and destruction is one of the reasons the EU and America have been diligently working on financing mechanism that assure aid sent to the Palestinian is not used to support terror—for such terror not only hurts its victims but also the groups from which terrorists emanate. When Israel is forced to defend itself, Palestinians suffer —not just from civilians being accidentally killed, because terrorists in effect use them as humans shields but also because the endemic violence impoverishes and corrupts their society.  Ensuring that flows of funds are used properly is a means to prevent death and destruction and save innocent lives. 
 
Now terrorists will find other mechanisms to fund their operations. The cash transfers made through the Arabic system of Hawala http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawala will be increasingly tapped, as will smuggling of cash throughout the region. Hamas has been forced to smuggle suit boxes of cash, recently $20 million, into Gaza to pay for terror operations, because foreign lending institutions are reluctant to serve as conduits for money being transferred  into the region.
 
The Times routinely talk of the need to spend more money on welfare and foreign aid to spread peace and tranquility throughout the world. The logical corollary of this would be that stopping the flow of money to terror groups would be a necessary complement to these efforts. Furthermore, stopping terror would save lives.

Apparently, this simple logic escapes the Times. It preens as if on the side of the angels, but is on the side of the devils, again.

Ed Lasky  6 23 06

Thomas Lifson updates:

Gabriel Schoenfeld, the editor of Commentary,  is quoted by Josh Gerstein, and voices one of the reactions I had: that the Times is actually courting prosecution.

Pinch Sulzberger has a desperate need to prove his greatness, his worthiness as heir to the dynasty. Some of his projects have been flops, one current biggie, the billion dollar skyscraper headquarters, is causing the company's credit rating to decline, and the paper is number three in circulation in New York itself.

I can't read Pinch's mind, but I wonder if he thinks that Bush would never dare indict him or his company. Or perhaps he thinks a prosecution would never get anywhere because the public outrage would bring down the Bush government. I don't know what he thinks about life in prison.

Schoenfeld points out that today's story doesn't involve the disclosure of intelligence information, so it is unlikely to be the basis for a prosecution. But by inflicting harm on the national security, it contributes to an atmosphere in which such a prosecution becomes more likely.