Slate(!) says NYT should have nixed SWIFT story, CTB(!) says no biggie

Heresy, although Weisberg’s banked enough lefty cred with his dopey “Bushisms” feature that he probably doesn’t have to worry about static. Besides, he derides the “pitchfork-waving mob of talk-show hosts and conservative bloggers,” doesn’t he? He’s still on the team.

Short but sweet:

To run with a story with the potential to cause significant harm to the national interest, I’d argue, an editor needs one of two things: a solid claim of public interest, or a sound basis for thinking that a story won’t in fact damage national security. In the case of the SWIFT story, editors at the Times were notably weak in both suits…

To publish or not to publish a story like this is seldom an easy decision. But given its relative unimportance to most Americans and Europeans, the absence of apparent wrongdoing on the part of the government, and the potential for it to be helpful to terrorists, the Times might have been wise to put this one on the spike.

Meanwhile, at the Counterterrorism Blog, Victor Comras isn’t necessarily defending the Times’s decision to publish — he’s just saying that it probably didn’t do any harm:

I strongly doubt that the press revelations came as any real surprise to the terrorist groups or their financiers. The real trick here is knowing how to identify and target the suspicious accounts and transactions that need to be monitored. And it is that methodology, and the sources and methods associated therewith, that constitute the real heart, and the real secrets, of this program. Happily none of this information has been compromised

These are pretty savvy guys. They have long known that the US and other governments would pull no stops in trying to identify and track their financial transactions. They use false names, shell banks and shell trusts and companies, and use every other money laundering trick in the book to hide their transactions. I’m sure that each of our successes was the result of a lot of hard work and some damn good intelligence, analysis and detective work. I doubt that the outcome in these cases would have been any different if the NY Times story had appeared in 2003 or even before.

“None of this information has been compromised”? Really? Not a lick? David Frum put together a list of facts revealed by the Times article which, to the best of his knowledge, hadn’t been known publicly before. Most of them have to do with blind spots. Savvy though they might be, were the jihadi financiers aware of all of that?

The punchline to all this: now that the cat’s out of the bag, international banking’s about to get a whole lot less private.

Was the Times’s SWIFT expose “worse than AIDS”? No! Bad, but not remotely as bad as AIDS and/or American promotion of democracy abroad.

Update: Victor Comras, call your office.

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