Published June 23, 2006
NEW YORK – The Bush administration and The New York Times are again at odds over national security, this time with new reports of a broad government effort to track global financial transfers.
The newspaper, which in December broke news of an effort by the National Security Agency to monitor Americans' telephone calls and e-mails, declined a White House request not to publish a story about the government's inspection of monies flowing in and out of the country.
The Los Angeles Times also reported on the issue Thursday night on its Web site, against the Bush administration's wishes. The Wall Street Journal said it received no request to hold its report of the surveillance.
Administration officials were concerned that news reports of the program would diminish its effectiveness and could harm overall national security.
"It's a tough call; it was not a decision made lightly," said Doyle McManus, the Los Angeles Times' Washington bureau chief. "The key issue here is whether the government has shown that there are adequate safeguards in these programs to give American citizens confidence that information that should remain private is being protected."
Treasury Department officials spent 90 minutes Thursday meeting with the newspaper's reporters, stressing the legality of the program and urging the paper to not publish a story on the program, McManus said in a telephone interview.
"They were quite vigorous, they were quite energetic. They made a very strong case," he said.
In its story, The New York Times said it carefully weighed the administration's arguments for withholding the information and gave them "the most serious and respectful consideration."
"We remain convinced that the administration's extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial data, however carefully targeted use it may be, is a matter of public interest," said Bill Keller, the Times' executive editor.
In December, Bush used part of his weekly radio address to criticize The New York Times' initial eavesdropping story as helping to inform enemies, saying "the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk."
McManus said the other factor that tipped the paper's decision to publish was the novel approach government was using to gather data in another realm without warrant or subpoena.
"Police agencies and prosecutors get warrants all the time to search suspects' houses, and we don't write stories about that," he said. "This is different. This is new. And this is a process that has been developed that does not involve getting a specific warrant. It's a new and unfamiliar process."