Let's Call Those Attacking the New York Times What They Are: Liars.

You know, it's funny -- for a gang that claims exclusive right to tell the rest of us how we should display our love for this country, they sure hate the basic freedoms that have made America what it is.

Apparently, they hate those freedoms so much that they'll lie and cheat in order to steal them away.

What I have to say here won't be particularly new for some of you keeping a close eye on the liberal blogs the past few days, but it deserves to be said again. And again. And again, until someone in the mainstream press finally wakes up and puts a stop to the ridiculous lies put forward recently by those on the right crusading for the destruction of the First Amendment. (One of the best bloggers on this, by the way, is HuffPo's own Greg Sargent, who has been doggedly documenting this on his own blog, The Horse's Mouth. Dan Froomkin's column yesterday is also a must-read.)

Today, the Republicans will reportedly introduce a resolution condeming the New York Times for revealing the existence of a "secret" program to monitor international banking transactions. Sen. Jim Bunning is even calling for a grand jury to consider charges of treason. (Left out of the resolution and the call for indictment, of course, will be the reliably conservative Wall Street Journal, which published a story the same day as the Times -- consistency is not, after all, the hallmark of this attack. The narrative demands that the traitorous journalists must be effete atheistic Manhattan liberals who are, you know, in league with religious extremists who target Manhattan, and the Journal simply doesn't fit. )

The Republicans are following the siren call of their right-wing media base, who, like the National Review, are calling for sanctions against the Times. The cry is always the same: the Times (though again, not the Journal) has harmed our national security by the disclosure of this double super secret program.

Well, then. If that's their argument, let's use the word the mainstream press is so scared to apply: liars.

From now on, remember this: anyone who tries to claim that the Times exposed a secret program and helped the terrorists (I'd mention the Journal, but hey, they won't) is a liar.

From today's Boston Globe:

A search of public records -- government documents posted on the Internet, congressional testimony, guidelines for bank examiners, and even an executive order President Bush signed in September 2001 -- describe how US authorities have openly sought new tools to track terrorist financing since 2001. That includes getting access to information about terrorist-linked wire transfers and other transactions, including those that travel through SWIFT.

'There have been public references to SWIFT before,' said Roger Cressey, a senior White House counterterrorism official until 2003. 'The White House is overreaching when they say [The New York Times committed] a crime against the war on terror. It has been in the public domain before.'

From Victor Comras, a counterterrorism expert formerly with the State Department and United Nations:

Reports on US monitoring of SWIFT transactions have been out there for some time. The information was fairly well known by terrorism financing experts back in 2002. The UN Al Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Group , on which I served as the terrorism financing expert, learned of the practice during the course of our monitoring inquiries. The information was incorporated in our report to the UN Security Council in December 2002. That report is still available on the UN Website. Paragraph 31 of the report states:

'The settlement of international transactions is usually handled through correspondent banking relationships or large-value message and payment systems, such as the SWIFT, Fedwire or CHIPS systems in the United States of America. Such international clearance centres are critical to processing international banking transactions and are rich with payment information. The United States has begun to apply new monitoring techniques to spot and verify suspicious transactions. The Group recommends the adoption of similar mechanisms by other countries.'

This isn't about whether the Times (but, uh, not the Journal) violated national security, not really. It's about changing the subject, about diverting attention, once again, from an administration that has systematically been bending and breaking the law and the Constitution in order to assemble ever more information about all of us. The convenient scapegoat, once again, is the press, and the liars -- come on, let's call them what they are here -- are proving once again that when it comes to political gain, no fundamental American value will stand in the way.

The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. --Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787. ME 6:57

Update: I bumped the Jefferson quote down to the bottom of the page so that it wouldn't take up the whole post synopsis, which automatically excerpts the beginning of the post.

Also, a response to commenter AReasonableGuy, who asked: "If indeed the existence of the financial monitoring program was well known, then there was no point in the New York Times' release of the information, was there? There was no scoop. So, why would a star reporter waste his time on it?"

The story wasn't the existence of the program, or of the monitoring. The story was how, once again, the administration has made an end run around oversight. I think Glenn Greenwald said it best:

The article had 2 purposes:

(1) It disclosed that the Bush administration obtains these records by administrative subpoena and therefore with no Congressional or judicial oversight; and

(2) It highlighted for its readers the fact that the Bush administration implemented this program in the aftermath of September 11 and then never bothered to have Congress provide any legislative authority or mandate any oversight framework for the intelligence-gathering program.

As was true with the December 16 NSA story, what the Times disclosed was the lack of oversight and safeguards in our intelligence-gathering operations - thereby prompting important public debate on those matters -- but not any non-public operations details that could help The Terrorists evade detection.