New York Times Outs Another Anti-Terror Program

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," June 23, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The New York Times has outed another government anti-terrorism program, one that kept tabs on banks and terror financing and had apparently been working out pretty well. But that didn't stop the "paper of record" and some other newspapers from letting everybody know about it.

Here's political and national security analyst at La Salle University, Edward Turzanski.

So The New York Times — this involved international banking, and they had had some success in tracking at least one major terrorist through these international banking contacts, and The New York Times told it — revealed it. Does that mean now that terrorists are on notice that we can track their international banking and they just won't do it anymore?

EDWARD TURZANSKI, LA SALLE UNIV.: John, we've certainly given away a capability that was active, that was yielding results, and it's just baffling, not just that The Times printed it, but more specifically that there are people in the position of trust within the U.S. government that leaked this information.

This administration has got to go after these leakers in a big way. People have to start going to jail because this is going to cost us lives over time.

GIBSON: Well, why aren't we? I mean, this wasn't even — The Times admitted in its own story, there is nothing particularly illegal about what the government was doing in the secret program to track international banking. And it was a secret.

So on what basis would you go after somebody for leaking some thing that wasn't an illegal — you know, a NSA-type operation to begin with?

TURZANSKI: John, it was a classified operation. That's the basis upon which you would prosecute someone. These are classified operations and had been classified by presidential executive order. It's illegal to divulge the existence of these.

GIBSON: Illegal to who?

TURZANSKI: For the government officials.

GIBSON: The government officials who divulge, or the newspaper reporters who report it?

TURZANSKI: In terms of the reporters who report it, this particular case, I would argue that it should not have been reported. Whether it's illegal, I don't know.

But I do know that the government official who told The Times reporter about this broke the law, ought to be prosecuted, and The New York Times ought to wake up and get it. They are harming our ability to prevent terror attacks.

This isn't some sort of academic game. This is going to cost lives, and they are harming our abilities to connect the dots. And that's what the 9/11 commission was all upset about is our inability to connect dots.

GIBSON: You know, the executive editor of The New York Times said — didn't say this was a public’s right to know issue, but said it was in the public’s interest. Has he got a journalistic leg to stand on there?

TURZANSKI: John, just about anything is in the public interest. That is a fungible way to excuse any poor judgment.

And I would argue that The New York Times has a point of view that it first of all disagrees with how this administration interprets the threat, how it responds to it, so The New York Times will decide what government programs are allowed to go on, what government programs will be kept secret. That ought not be the case.

GIBSON: Edward Turzanksi, thanks.

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