Glenn Greenwald has published a post called ” The Bush lynch mob against the nation’s free press” that I recommend highly.
Much of the post discusses calls to prosecute the New York Times for treason because of its recent disclosure of the Bush bank-transaction-tracking program. There are a couple of points I want to add to Glenn’s post.
First off, let’s be clear about what is wrong with the Bush program. Last Friday Jonathan Turley appeared on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown show, and he explained it clearly (emphasis added):
OLBERMANN: Joining me now to assess just how much of a legal thing it is to do, constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley, law professor at George Washington University.
And we meet again on this subject.
JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Every week.
OLBERMANN: E-mails, international phone calls, domestic phone calls, databanks of phone records, now bank records. Do you buy the legality of this newest one?
TURLEY: Well, itâ€˜s comforting to know that somewhere in government, each of our lives is organized in a file, from your banking records to your e-mails. I can only hope you get a copy at some point.
But, you know, this raises the same type of questions. Most importantly, the absence of congressional authorization. You know, the president is allowed to enforce the laws, heâ€˜s not allowed to make them. He requires authorization from Congress. This is a constant theme.
And when Secretary Snow says the American people expect us to do things like that, unfortunately, itâ€˜s true that every single week we have a new massive databank or a new, you know, surveillance program being revealed that has not been approved by Congress.
OLBERMANN: Yes, he may have said something, he may have said more than he knew in using that phrase, theyâ€”people expect us to do this.
But thereâ€˜s one difference with this one, Jon. Some of the banks didnâ€˜t know this was happening. The governmentâ€˜s not just messing with its own citizens here, itâ€˜s messing with business. And if anybody in this country believes in privacy, and I think they call it proprietary information, itâ€˜s businessmen. Are they going to fight the government in a way that ordinary citizens could not?
TURLEY: You know, Keith, they might, because if you remember, if we go back a couple weeks to an earlier disclosed program, the telecom scandal, that we found out that various telephone companies were giving information, telephone numbers, by American citizens to the United States government. And the response was a considerable backlash. Many customers were not happy, particularly when they found out that one company said, No, said, This is not something you can do under the law, and told the administration, Show me your authority. And the administration simply refused to do so.
Now, you may see a similar backlash from these banks, and saying, you know, We have a business to do here, we have a system of laws. If youâ€˜re going to have some type of massive program like this, then go to Congress, and letâ€˜s talk about it. You can do it in a classified setting.
But in this case, all we know is that some members of the intelligence committees were informed. Under this law theyâ€˜re citing, AIEPA (ph), he was only supposed to use this authority for a brief time, in an emergency. He was then supposed to go back to Congress to get real authority. Instead, he just kept on mentioning it to the same oversight members, who did nothing about some of these other programs.
OLBERMANN: Tell me, lastly, here about the term with which we started this segment, the secret administrative subpoena, not even reviewed by a judge nor a grand jury. Whatâ€˜s the secret administrative subpoena business?
TURLEY: Well, I think theyâ€˜re talking about national security letters, which is basically what it sounds like, a letter claiming national security. But the thing I love is that Secretary Snow and his associates have said, Look, we did have oversight. It wasnâ€˜t Congress, it wasnâ€˜t the court. We went out and hired a private company, and they did the oversight, they protected your civil liberties.
This is (INAUDIBLE) outsourcing the Constitution. Weâ€”itâ€˜s something that is almost laughable that they believe oversight is that they looked at themselves and felt good about it, and then they hired a private company, and they pretty good too.
OLBERMANN: Well, if you have a low threshold for feeling good about yourself, I guess you can do that, you can get that from a company or from your own picture of yourself, no matter how distorted it might be in the mirror.
George Washington University law professor, constitutional law expert, Jonathan Turley, great thanks for joining us. And Iâ€˜m certain weâ€˜re going to be talking about something like this again soon.
TURLEY: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Thank you, sir.
In sum, I don’t believe this is primarily a civil liberties issue, but more a breach of separation of powers issue. I bring that up because on last night’s Hardball I observed (until the channel was, mercifully, changed) Al Sharpton and some wingnut woman radio personality “debate” this issue, and neither one of them had a clue what he or she was talking about. Sharpton argued that the program violates civil liberties, and I suspect it probably does, but I don’t think we know enough detail to prove that it does. On the other hand, there’s no question the Bushies are in violation of usurping power the Constitution gives to Congress.
The other point is one that Glenn makes — that there is, actually, nothing in the recent news stories that terrorists didn’t already know. Last night on Hardball, before the atrocious Sharpton-Whozits debate, Chris Matthews interviewed Ron Suskind (bless him!), David Ignatius, and Evan Thomas on the finance-tracking program. The transcript isn’t up yet at the MSNBC site, but probably will be in the next couple of hours. Anyway, I gather from the converation that at least some of the “new” information published by the New York Times is also in Suskind’s new book, The One Percent Doctrine. I have only barely started reading it and haven’t gotten to that part yet, but I think the relevant section begins on page 141.
[Update: The MSNBC Hardball transcript is here. The interview with Suskind, Ignatius and Thomas is the first thing in the program. ]
Suskind et al. concurred that the terrorists have known about this program for a long time and have pretty much stopped using financial institutions to transfer money. These days the terrorists are mostly sending cash from here to there by way of couriers, they said. This has slowed them down a bit, but it isn’t stopping them.
For a whole lot more on this topic, read today’s Dan Froomkin column.
Update: Captain Ed misses the point. Again. Nobody is saying that the administration should not have been tracing terrorist financial transfers. (In fact, I am about 98 percent certain that the Clinton Administration tried to get a program like this going in the late 1990s, but Republicans in Congress shot it down. As I remember, Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, now retired, was instrumental in the shootdown.) The problem (and how many times does this have to be explained?) is that the Bushies are operating without proper oversight.
Update update: More from Jonathan Turley at Democracy Now!