Back in June 2006, the front page of the New York Times carried news of a highly secret CIA-Treasury department intelligence program to track al Qaeda financing that drew on data supplied by a European banking consortium based in Belgium known as SWIFT.
President Bush denounced the newspaper’s disclosure of the classified counterterrorism operation as “disgraceful.” Prior to publication, administration officials had strenuously warned the newspaper not to run the story, arguing, among other things, that it would endanger national security by placing the SWIFT consortium under intense pressure to stop sharing information with U.S. intelligence.
Bill Keller, his paper already under attack for revealing a highly classified NSA terrorist surveillance program the previous December, promptly issued an equally strenuous rebuttal, noting that “if, as the administration says, the [SWIFT] program is legal, highly effective, and well protected against invasion of privacy, the bankers should have little trouble defending it.” Not long after that, Byron Calame, the Times’s ombudsman chimed in, saying that “So far, SWIFT hasn’t publicly indicated any intention to stop cooperating.”
Calame subsequently had a change of mind about the wisdom of his paper’s actions, and offered a “mea culpa,” declaring that “I don’t think the article should have been published.” Bill Keller, for his part, issued a lacerating reply to what he called Calame’s “revisionist epiphany.”
Today, buried in the back pages of the Times, comes news that the European Central Bank has ordered SWIFT to cease providing banking data to the United States for use in investigations of al Qaeda. “Under European Union rules,” the Times reports, “information on money transfers can be used only for banking purposes and not for other uses, like combating terrorism.”
To read Bill Keller’s initial defense of his paper’s actions, click here (link requires registration).
To find out how long it will take before Bill Keller issues a mea culpa of his own, click here.