The Right Not to Know

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 24, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Right Not to Know


Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Once more the spoiler. Despite the earnest persuasion of the White House to preserve a useful weapon in the war against the terrorists, the New York Times has revealed the workings of a covert surveillance program, indisputably within the law, to use administrative subpoenas to examine, through a Belgian financial consortium known by the acronym SWIFT, the financing of international terrorism. Once the story was out, the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal covered it as well. Now the program is damaged, perhaps severely so, and the financing of terror is harder to track. This is another unnecessary leak, six months after the New York Times revealed a secret National Security Agency terrorist surveillance program.

In its earlier scoop, the New York Times could reasonably argue legal uncertainty. Not this time. The Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Miller in 1976 that no right to privacy attaches to the type of third-party financial-transaction information SWIFT has provided to the Treasury Department. The Right to Financial Privacy Act, enacted by Congress in 1978 in the wake of United States v. Miller, allows just the administrative subpoenas Treasury has been using. So does the Patriot Act. The SWIFT transactions that Treasury has been examining are international in nature. The searches are specifically targeted at suspected or known terrorists, a "sharp harpoon aimed at the heart of terrorist activity," as Treasury Secretary John Snow puts it. The claim that the rights of American citizens are infringed is irrational, unduly partisan, or both.

The program clearly works. Treasury pointed immediately to the capture of the terrorist known as "Hambali." Hambali, or Riduan Isamuddin, masterminded the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 innocent men and women. He has been in U.S. custody since his arrest in 2003 in Thailand, and the SWIFT program was "a vital tool" leading to his capture. The program was crucial to the discovery and conviction of one Uzair Paracha last fall in Brooklyn on charges of providing material support to al Qaeda in Pakistan through money laundering.

Those are merely the two most prominent examples. …

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