Administration: playing politics with national security?

Yesterday I framed the SWIFT story around a single question: who should have the power to decide what’s printed in a newspaper, the publisher or the government?

Of course, what I didn’t mention are the various laws that hedge newspapers. A paper can’t print libel, for example. There are also laws governing national security, too. A paper can’t knowingly print national secrets that endanger the nation’s security. (See the Valerie Plame case.)

So now the real “experts” can act. That is, if the New York Times truly endangered national security, the government can prosecute.

Greg Sargent:

Both Snow and Dick Cheney have explicitly said that the Times has put the nation’s security at risk — and presumably they think the paper continues to do so, since it won’t back off its right to publish such stories. Yet by all indications the administration is unlikely to take any real action against the paper…

According to Sargent, there are two possible conclusions we can take from the administration’s unwillingness to prosecute:

Either the administration is putting politics ahead of national security and won’t act aggressively against an institution it says is endangering American lives — because it would be bad for Bush. Or the administration’s claim that The Times endangered national security is just the latest in a long string of lies it has told to the American people.

It’s a good point. Budge has been at me for supporting the Times’ right to publish stories like this, criticizing the paper for printing without knowing the real effect of publication to national security, because it’s not an expert in the area.

Now the “real” experts can act. If publication really hurts security, then the federal government should prosecute the newspaper.

Likewise with the multitude of other illegal programs the administration engages in. Budge again criticizes me for calling warrantless domestic wiretapping illegal, because the legality is “debatable” – though I haven’t seen too many, if any, objective voices praising the programs. But if the administration believed in the legality of warrantless wiretapping, data mining, suspension of habeus corpus for “enemy combatants, ” or torture, they would rush the issue to court.

Instead, in each case they’ve either abandoned their programs before a court could consider the case or set up administrative roadblocks to ensure the case can never reach a legal decision. Not the type of behavior you’d expect from an administration that is confident in the legality of its snooping.

And you won’t see the SWIFT issue go to court, either.

I say it’s time to put up or shut up.

Update: The HuffPo’s Alex Koppelman also chimes in. According to him, there have been published reports as early as 2001 that show the Bush administration was seeking to track financial records via SWIFT. So the story that broke recently was not new information. The main story of the Times (and other publications) was that the administration tried to avoid oversight on the program.

Another point that Koppleman makes is that the Times was not the only newspaper that printed the story. The LA Times did too, as did the Wall Street Journal.

Hey, you folks concerned about national security! When are you going after the WSJ?


  1. Actually papers are protected pretty well by the law. One such mechanism is the idea of “Absences of Malice”. This makes sueing papers VERY difficult.

    As far as the rest, it sounds like the current administration is once again trying to exert executive powers that simply don’t exist. You can’t classify something after it is publically released. It simply doesn’t work like that…


  2. Mark T

    Budge confuses me … he’s a libertarian, but comes off as a garden variety Republican.

  3. Hm, I wonder what is a “garden variety” Republican.

  4. Mark Tokarski

    Supporting free speech in name only.

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