Sunday, April 11, 2010

One Man's Hard Line Is Another Man's Center

Remember the SWIFT program? It was a classified Bush-era program for tracking terrorist funding through foreign banks, blown wide open by leaked information published by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. In the case of the New York Times and the LA Times, the administration specficially asked the papers not to compromise the program, which would risk at least three counterterrorism investigations. (“SWIFT Deposits”).

There was never anything remotely unlawful about the program. But thanks to the self-righteous media’s self-induced hallucination that any Bush counterterror effort, by definition, had to be breaking some law, they ran the story anyway.

A couple months later that NYT’s ombudsman said he was sorry. Our bad. Then they dropped it. Meanwhile, we still all have to hear about Valerie Plame.

Now the Obama administration is trying to revive the SWIFT program, which it says is both a “key tool in tracking terrorist money,” and also one that “saves lives.” But the Europeans aren’t so sure they can trust us any more:

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder is in Spain trying to revive a Bush-era counterterrorism program that the U.S. views as a key tool in tracking terrorist money transfers but European Union lawmakers reject because of civil liberties concerns.

The Obama administration argues that the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program has helped protect lives on both sides of the Atlantic and should continue with European cooperation. European governments are seeking wide changes and safeguards to protect civil liberties as they renegotiate a deal stopped in its tracks by a vote of the European Parliament in February.

The gap between the two sides shows the complicated contours of the Obama administration's efforts to set a centrist course on national security. Even as the administration struggles at home to remain vigilant against terrorism while separating its policies from the Bush White House's hard line, U.S. officials are committed to maintaining the data-sharing program abroad. (“US trying to woo EU back to terror finance program”)

The AP recap of the program’s history after it came into existence following 9/11 coyly glides over how “the existence of the U.S. anti-terror program was disclosed in 2006 — angering European legislators —.” No mention of the role of the three newspapers.

At the time, it was open season for the left on any and every classified antiterror operation of the Bush administration on general principles that anything that hurts terrorists must involve shredding the Constitution. What a crock about the current effort to revive the program being an effort to set a “centrist course” after Bush’s “hard-line.” It sounds as if Obama isn’t going for the center at all, he wants the Bush program, hard-line at all.

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