6/30/2006

Columbia Journalism Review comes up intellectually short.

This bit of shoddy analysis from Paul McLeary of the Columbia Journalism Review. McLeary reasons that it's okay to leak explicit details of a classified counter-terrorism program if (1) you've previously leaked broad outlines of the program, and (2) the administration didn't make a big deal of the first leak.

Of course, for the administration, making a big deal of the first leak would have been stupid. It would have only raised the profile of the story further. Remember that this was the same point Bill Keller tried to make (inappropriately, in that case, since the profile couldn't have been raised higher) against his critics in his apologia for publishing the explicit details.

The first MATTY WALKER AWARD goes to McLeary for not-very-smart-are-you? partisan cynicism masquerading as actual thinking.

CJR Daily: New York Times Scoops Itself - In 2004: "And in the back and forth over whether or not the Times should be brought up on charges, it's worthwhile to point out that the Times' Eric Lichtblau offered an intriguing sneak peak at a similar program back in December, 2004, in an article about a new Department of Homeland Security program that would scour financial transactions: 'The Department of Homeland Security has begun experimenting with a wide-ranging computer database that allows investigators to match financial transactions against a list of some 250,000 people and firms with suspected ties to terrorist financing, drug trafficking, money laundering and other financial crimes.'

Lichtblau also hinted -- broadly -- about a year and a half before the government confirmed it that monitoring financial transactions helped catch Hambali. 'In early 2002, for instance, World-Check added to its high-risk list a terror suspect in Southeast Asia who went by the name of Hambali. Months later, the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control added Hambali to its own list of 'banned' foreigners. Hambali, captured in Thailand last year, is in American custody and is accused of organizing two deadly nightclub attacks in Bali in October 2002.'

Lichtblau wrote that the program, which was still being tested, 'gives investigators what amounts to an enormous global watch list to track possible financial crimes at American border crossings, banks and other financial institutions.'
Sounds familiar, yet we don't recall any big deal being made of it then. So why now?

Could it be because Lichtblau's 2004 piece came immediately after the presidential election, whereas his 2006 piece that has kicked up such a furor comes right in the middle of fevered campaigning for the mid-term elections -- campaigning which features plenty of Republican incumbents said to be running scared and looking for an issue, any issue, to divert attention from Iraq and the president's wobbly approval ratings?
Naw. Must be something else.

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