WSJ: Murtha asked the Times not to publish the SWIFT story

According to Tony Fratto, the Treasury Department’s Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. I think.

[Fratto] first contacted the Times some two months ago. He had heard Times reporters were asking questions about the highly classified program involving Swift, an international banking consortium that has cooperated with the U.S. to follow the money making its way to the likes of al Qaeda or Hezbollah. Mr. Fratto went on to ask the Times not to publish such a story on grounds that it would damage this useful terror-tracking method.

Sometime later, Secretary John Snow invited Times Executive Editor Bill Keller to his Treasury office to deliver the same message. Later still, Mr. Fratto says, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, the leaders of the 9/11 Commission, made the same request of Mr. Keller. Democratic Congressman John Murtha and Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte also urged the newspaper not to publish the story.

I assume Fratto told them the bit about Murtha, although it’s slightly ambiguous as written. It may be that the Journal knows independently, from its own reporting on the story, that Murtha was asking people not to publish. Or it may be that they’re speculating about what Murtha told the Times based on the fact that Bill Keller mentioned him to CNN the other day.

If this did come from Fratto, it probably means Murtha was asked to get involved by Treasury. Presumably it also means that Murtha knew about the program already — but how? His only committee assignment, as far as I can tell, is the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on defense. Would they have been briefed by Bush on something like this? Or did Treasury bring Murtha into the fold specifically for the purpose of appealing to the Times, knowing that Keller would have a hard time saying no to his puppy-dog anti-war eyes?

This is all besides the point, though. The fact is, neither Fratto nor anyone else knows what Murtha said to Keller. We do know from Keller’s interview with CNN that at least one person enlisted by the administration to make the case for not publishing ended up doing the opposite. So who is it? Snow and Negroponte are cabinet members; Kean’s given interviews since the Times story broke saying what a mistake it was to publish; Hamilton is a Democrat, but the 9/11 Commission he co-chaired gave the administration an A- for its terror-finance policing — and according to Kean, Hamilton was the member of the Commission who was briefed about the SWIFT program so he likely had a lot of input into assigning that grade. Which suggests he thinks the program has some value too.

That leaves Murtha, who’s studiously avoided commenting on his part in this. If he comes out and admits that he went to bat for Bush, he pisses off the Kossacks. If he comes out and admits that he double-crossed Bush, he pisses off everyone else. Silence is golden.

Meanwhile, there’s a new op-ed about the SWIFT program in the Times today called “A Secret the Terrorists Already Knew.” The terrorists who didn’t already know, like Hambali, aren’t mentioned — but Karl Rove is.

Which former intelligence official wrote it? Three guesses, and you shouldn’t need the last two. Here’s a hint: it’s not Larry Johnson. I said Rove is mentioned, not that he’s accused of killing his mother.

Update: Reader Ajay C. reminds me that Murtha voted against the House anti-blabbermouth resolution yesterday. Was his hand forced by politics? Or did he genuinely disagree with it?

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