Monday, June 26, 2006

KHOBAR AND THE TIMES

"The problem is he used his power to do something he has no power to undo."

Khobar Towers Aerial Shot10 years ago yesterday, the Khobar towers were car bombed and 19 American soldiers died. The Airforce Magazine online has the history of this terrible event, and to date none of the terrorists thought to be responsible have been brought to justice. The Khobar Towers sewage truck exploded with a force equal to at least 20,000 pounds, and perhaps as much as 30,000 pounds, of TNT. The building had been partially evacuated because roof sentries noted something suspicious about the truck being abandoned where it was.

While we honor the dead soldiers and their families for their sacrifice, there is something else to consider here.

This is the face of terrorism, the attacks that bombers bring, usually to innocents and civilians in an attempt to intimidate governments and populations to kneel to the demands of a few demented extremists. The war on terror is to fight these organizations, to deny them global reach, to destroy their networks, their funding, their training and hiding places, and to punish the nations who harbor and assist these monsters.

To this end, the United States government is using intelligence, police, military, and diplomatic efforts. For these efforts to be their most effective, many of them need to be in secret, their details unknown, and their work unseen by the public. If the enemy learns how and what we're doing, they can adapt, avoid our efforts, and disappear.

This is why the New York Times and other news organizations are so reprehensible when they publish details of classified operations and secret work to fight terror and protect innocent lives. This is why there is outrage regarding the most recent treasonous activity by several newspapers to publish details of a secret operation to monitor bank transactions of known terrorists and organizations that assist them.

Patterico pontificated on this, examining the transcript of a radio interview of New York Times' Washington Bureau Chief Doyle McManus:
Poster
The bottom line is, of course, that McManus and his colleagues took it upon themselves to decide what classified information the public (and our enemies) should know about. Bizarrely, he claims that the critical factors in his decision were whether the program was legal and had adequate safeguards — even though, as I document in a related post, it was indeed legal and had extensive safeguards in place. Thus, his excuses are an apparent cover for some other motivation, as yet unrevealed.

In this case, the government significantly expanded its ability — not just its ability but the amount of monitoring of international bank transfers that it was doing, and it did it through a legal method, the administrative subpoena, that meant it never had to go before a judge to ask permission to do this.

We wanted them to — we wanted to give them also an opportunity to tell us, “Is this legal? Are there safeguards? When people tell us, ‘this really makes me feel like it may be overstepping the proper bounds,’ are they right or are they wrong?”

Of course, the L.A. Times was told, as was the New York Times, that the program was legal and that it did have safeguards. Indeed, extensive evidence of strict controls was presented to both newspapers. I document this in a separate post published today, here.

Patterico goes on to outline problems with the statement by McManus above. Commenters at the site added their analysis:
Poster
we learn over time, uh, whether this story had an effect in either direction — whether the story actually did have any negative effect on counterterrorist efforts.

What then? What if he made the wrong choice? The problem is he used his power to do something he has no power to undo.
-by MayBee


I think one question to ask is would the New York Times and LA Times have published this story if Bill Clinton was president?

Hidden within the answer is a hint as to why the credibility of both papers, along with their circulation, continues to decline.

Whether one believes the publication was right or wrong, I think the bigger issue is that nobody believes anymore that either paper would publish stories that would damage Bill Clinton’s administration anywhere near as much as they have published them to damage George Bush’s administration. This isn’t about a principled stand on an issue. Because, silly editors, even when you take a principled stand, WE CANNOT TELL ANYMORE! And that is sad. Because, darn it, I want to trust that when the New York Times or LA Times publishes an expose they are doing it for principles and not just short term political impact. Sadly, I just cannot trust them anymore. Perhaps that is the saddest part of this presidency. Two great papers have squandered their credibility just to politically impact a sitting president they don’t like. How sad.
-by Lone Star Jeffe


So, what would be more useful, if you were operating a terrorist network: the name of one Virginia-based WMD analyst who used to be a covert agent back before the Khobar Towers bombing? [Valerie Plame] Or roadmaps of how the US government monitors telecommunications and financial transactions?
-by Crank


I have a government clearance. One of the issues brought up during the issuance of that clearance was: “What would I do if I saw information that was counter to my beliefs?” My answer then, as now, is that it ISN’T MY INFORMATION! I was not elected to use my privileged position to effect political change. I was hired to do a particular job in which I would be in contact with sensitive information that BELONGS to the Government.

The Government collects information in much the same sense as scouts from our earlier and simpler days. The information collected has a value beyond what it cost to amass it. If one of the writers at the Times drove a company truck home to move furniture he may not have a job the next day. What I’m saying, and I am basically addressing those with a clearance that have a burning desire to “be the Condor,” is that they are thieves. If you have a financial situation where 99 of the folks are honest but one thief, that one thief undoes all the honesty of the others.

When a seller of used articles willingly and knowingly assumes stolen goods he becomes a fence. The difference is one of honor not of merchandise. Will the Times be the Fagin of the newspaper world?

No doubt the thieves view themselves as on a higher plateau. One built from the lumber of civic obligation. They would also argue that they were unpaid and a thief usually gains monetarily from his transactions. There are many currencies in this world and if the thieves looked closely they would see that their vaunted “whistleblower” “Condor” motives are just a veneer over the common wood of self interest.
-by Brad


Sister Toldjah has a long list of her analysis of previous leaks and publication of classified information by the media.

*UPDATE: Protein Wisdom brings to memory that of the men who pulled off the bombing, six were captured by Saudi police and confessed that they had done it for Iran.
As FBI agents sifted through the remains of Building 131 in 115-degree heat, the bombers admitted they had been trained by the Iranian external security service (IRGC) in Lebanon’s Beka Valley and received their passports at the Iranian Embassy in Damascus, Syria, along with $250,000 cash for the operation from IRGC Gen. Ahmad Sharifi.

We later learned that senior members of the Iranian government, including Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Spiritual Leader’s office had selected Khobar as their target and commissioned the Saudi Hezbollah to carry out the operation.
President Clinton at the time vowed to leave no stone unturned, but never sent any agents to Saudi Arabia to even interview the men. Why? We can only speculate, but it's likely that this would have led to require more strong action than President Clinton was inclined to engage in, even war.

**UPDATE: Fixed the date attributed to 10th anniversary
***UPDATE: Check out this article from Newsbusters about an interview by Hugh Hewitt with Doyle McManus, where he admits that the news story could have been damaging.

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