The program, run by the Treasury Department, is considered a potent weapon in the war on terrorism because of its ability to clandestinely monitor financial transactions and map terrorist webs.Does anyone have any familiarity with the term "al-hawalah?"
A more important question is posed by Helen Thomas in the political pistolwhipping she delivers to Tony the Snowjob in his press conference today. I'm going to paste a bunch of it in here as, really, you can't make this shit up. I'll highlight a couple of important questions, but you can see for yourself how tangled the W, Rove and Co has gotten themselves in violations of our constitutional rights they seem like bumbling idiots when trying to answer legitimate questions:
Q On terrorist financing, the critics are saying again that this is another indication that the White House is overstepping presidential authority. Why isn't it?I think the best statement here is this:
MR. SNOW: Well, number one -- I'm glad you asked it. The stories that appeared today were interesting, because all of the potential criticisms were entirely abstract in nature, were not concrete, whereas the benefits were fairly concrete, as were the legal steps.
I'll just read you a few highlights from The New York Times. "The program is a significant departure from typical practice." Well, so was September 11th, and I think everybody acknowledges that in the wake of September 11th it became necessary to try to use every means at our disposal to try to figure out what terrorists were doing and to try to track them down and to stop their activities. The program is, "highly unusual." I refer you to my previous comment about September 11th.
Some officials, "expressed reservations about the program." The reservations are not concrete. It says that, "What they viewed as an urgent temporary measure has become permanent." That doesn't tell me anything. That doesn't list a specific violation of anybody's private rights, it doesn't specify any statute that may have been violated. "The program has been described as exploiting a 'gray area.'" Difficult to figure out what that means. The executives voiced, "early concerns about the program." That was at Swift. Apparently those were resolved.
Meanwhile -- go ahead.
Q I think what they're saying is that the justification that you all are using for this program is based on the September 11th disaster, and now this program has been going on for five years, but there's no congressional authority for it.
MR. SNOW: And what's interesting here is, for instance, in the -- well, rise in peace, it says "It arguably complies with the letter of the law." There was no specific allegation of any breach of responsibility for notifying Congress. In addition, intelligence committees have been notified, and they know all about this.
Let me tell you why this is important. It works. If you read the piece, it works. The program has been tracing transactions of people suspected of having ties to al Qaeda: Routine transactions confined to this country are generally not in the database; it has sought only for terrorism investigations; a series of safeguards have been put in place. For instance, anybody trying to have access has to have a specific reason and a specific piece of data that would justify going into the database. Furthermore, to ensure that there has been no abuse, they've also had an outside auditor take a look regularly at the program. This has been reviewed by Intelligence Committees on the House, it's been reviewed by the Fed and other financial institutions in the United States. Furthermore, according to the piece, again, Swift and Treasury officials are aware of no abuses, nor have any been alleged in the piece.
Here's what it has done -- this is the concrete part, as opposed to the abstract, potential dangers. It helped capture Hambali, who was responsible for the Bali bombing which killed more than 2,000 people.* It's provided information on domestic terror cells. That's a good thing. It helped identify a Brooklyn man convicted on terrorism-related charges last year.
So the point here is that the administration has been looking very carefully at ways of trying within the letter and spirit of the law to be able to shut off financing. It's a good thing to shut off the spigot, the financial spigot. And it does seem to be working. Now we have stories of people moving wads of cash over the borders -
Q Isn't it also to have it clear that it's legal, that there should be court-approved warrants, which is a general practice, subpoenas, and that kind of thing, to ensure that it --
MR. SNOW: Subpoenas, in fact, are not standard practice, no. Subpoenas are actually not standard practice in this kind of activity.
Q Why didn't the President seek congressional authorization for the program?
MR. SNOW: He didn't need to.
MR. SNOW: Because, why would he need it? Under what statute would he need congressional authorization?
Q On what legal -- what is your legal basis for --
MR. SNOW: The legal basis -- no, the legal basis here is that you've got an executive order, and furthermore, if you want to get into the legal vagaries, I will send you over to the Treasury Department attorneys who have been working this. I think it is safe to say that there's a presumption here that the administration is trying to do an end run. If so, it's interesting that people involved -- The Times refers generally to the administration having people contacted. These people are involved in the intelligence business, who knew about it, who are members of Congress, and who were informed about the program, who specifically asked The New York Times not to publish it.
So this is not something -- you might want to ask members of the intelligence committees whether they thought they got an end-run on this one.
Q Well, given all that you're saying, and given the fact that it has been well known publicly that the government has endeavored to cut off the financial spigot, to use your term, why did the administration go to such intense lengths to stop the publication of something that people think is somewhat self-evident?
MR. SNOW: Because the means and methods by which we do it are not.
Q But the existence of this organization is no secret, either.
MR. SNOW: Are you kidding? Are you talking about Swift? When did you know about Swift before?
Q I'm talking about those in the --
MR. SNOW: -- know about Swift before? (Laughter.)
Q While I don't, I can assure you that people in the financial community know.
MR. SNOW: I guarantee, you go talk to your local banker -- you talk about --
Q Why doesn't it --
MR. SNOW: It is legal, Helen.
Q What is the law that allows you to go into the private --
MR. SNOW: I'll tell you what, we will attach -- we'll get our lawyers to attach all this and it will just --
Q No, no, just give me the law --
MR. SNOW: I am going to give you the law.
Q You don't even know --
MR. SNOW: You're absolutely right, I do not know the specific statute, which is why I will present it to you.
Q But, again, why go to the extraordinary effort of trying to get news media to inform people what their government is doing?
MR. SNOW: Well, I'll tell you what, does CNN disclose what it does with the financial information or personal information of the people who log onto its website? Does The New York Times? Does The L.A. Times? Your organizations all collect personal data on people who use your services. But there's a second point --
Q Do you not understand the difference between private companies and governments, sir?
MR. SNOW: I understand. I do understand. But what I'm saying here is, what the public -- I'll tell you what, you ask the American public, do you want -- do you think you have a right to know the specific means and methods by which --
Q That's not --
MR. SNOW: Helen, will you stop heckling and let me conduct a press conference.
Q -- argument.
MR. SNOW: Well, no, I'm making an argument, and you're pestering the teacher.
Okay, now, here -- I think the American people understand that if somebody says, how is it that you're tracking down terrorist financing? We don't want the terrorist to know that. That's an important thing for them not to know. But now what's happening is that some of the means and methods are available. What happens is they adjust their own techniques accordingly.
Now, here's the other interesting thing. If there were some specific allegation that there was an abuse here, that people 's rights were in jeopardy, that there was a violation of law -- none of which is alleged; I mean, you keep asking me what the laws are -- it's not even mentioned in here, in The New York Times or any of the pieces that ran today, there is no allegation of illegality.
Q Let me ask a follow up. Are you saying that the financial experts in the terrorist ranks would not know about an organization that works for 7,800 different financial institutions in 200 countries?
MR. SNOW: I'm saying, yes. I think that a lot of people didn't know about the existence of Swift.
Q I asked, though, about the terrorist financial experts, the ones you would worry about, the ones --
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure they did. I really don't.
Q Tony, would you allow, though, that there could be a deterrent effect in this information becoming public, that the terrorists know that you're looking at this and they're going to have to find another less effective way to do this, and perhaps less successful way and a more easily discoverable way?
MR. SNOW: It's a good point. I think it's -- but I'm not sure the revelation of the methods is all that useful, but the government has said many times, we're going after your finances. And it's also clear that the financial trails have been drying up. And it's also clear that in some cases you do have stories of people baling up wads of cash and carrying them through the mountains of Pakistan and so on to try to transmit. So there clearly has been a deterrent effect. I don't know if it's traceable to this program; I don't know if it's traceable -- I'm not sure I can disaggregate the specific causes of it, but it is clear that the efforts to try to choke off terror financing have enjoyed a certain measure of success. And that's a good thing.
Q But there is a suggestion in some of the stories that the program isn't even that useful anymore because of the way al Qaeda moves money around is such an informal -- they have such an informal way of doing it now, that it doesn't even go through these official means, and that the program, in fact, invades everyone's privacy, but for very little use.
MR. SNOW: How does it invade people's privacy?
Q Well, by learning personal data.
MR. SNOW: No, but it is restricted. Again, it is not looking at your privacy, it's not looking at mine, unless --
Q How is it restricted?
MR. SNOW: It is restricted to -- you have to have intelligence data that would justify looking into the records of a person. All right? And that person has to have links to al Qaeda. Those are the basic guidelines. If you're not a member of al Qaeda -- and, Peter, I have it on good authority that you're not -- you're safe. They're not going to look at your records.
Go ahead, Jessica.
Q Is there anything in this emergency provision for the President that limits the administration from making a rule that lets you guys look into everyone's personal data?
MR. SNOW: Is there anything that limits? There's absolutely --
Q Any limits to the President's power, in your view --
MR. SNOW: There is no contemplation of any such action, period.
Q No, but the question is, is there anything in the law that you use to justify -- that the administration uses to justify these programs --
MR. SNOW: The law is very specific, which is talking about going at --
Q -- that limits the President's power?
MR. SNOW: Yes. The limit of trying to go after terrorists, that in itself is self-limiting because it limits the body of people whose financial transactions and other data are going to be investigated.
Q In previous cases when intelligence methods have been revealed in the news, the administration has not talked about them. This time you've trotted the Treasury officials to talk about them. Why have you done this? Is the administration concerned --
MR. SNOW: I think it was because --
Q -- that you're not being effective in getting this out to the people and justifying it?
MR. SNOW: I think it's important -- the one thing we can say is that Jim Risen and Eric Lichtblau and Bill Keller and others had -- and other reporters who did this, got extensive knowledge and briefing on this. So they knew it. And that's why -- I mean, it's interesting because I think there's a fair amount of balance in the story in that you do have concrete benefits and you do have the kind of abstract harms that were mentioned in there. I think it's important in a case like this, and obviously, we didn't want to print it. But we also wanted to make sure that as the reporters went through and as the editors went through it that they were fully informed so that they could make their own judgment, and that is what they did.
Go ahead. Let me get to Sheryl.
Q You had mentioned that the intelligence committees were briefed. Can you talk specifically about how members of Congress were briefed about this program, and when? And if the types --
MR. SNOW: No. Because I don't know.**
Q Can you also find out, if you don't know, were the briefings that Congress received on this program similar or different than the ones members received on the NSA wire tapping?
MR. SNOW: We'll asterisk that one --
MS. PERINO: Treasury is having a press conference at 1:00 p.m.
MR. SNOW: Yes, that's true, the Treasury, actually -- Secretary Snow is going to have a press conference on it. And frankly, he knows it far better than I do. So I think -- transfer there; if we don't get answers then, we'll do it.
the way al Qaeda moves money around is such an informal -- they have such an informal way of doing it now, that it doesn't even go through these official means, and that the program, in fact, invades everyone's privacy, but for very little use.So, thusly, my original question, why do you think they are doing this?
Oh, and Helen comes right back at Tony the schoolboy Snowjob one more time latter on in the lession - oop, I mean briefing:
Q Back to the banking transactions, how can you assure the American public that this isn't what seems to be a broad net covering all Americans -- you said no, subpoenas are needed, but warrants apparently weren't used, either. Very similar, and apparently this is parallel to the NSA case, which gives the perception, if nothing else, that it's an arrogance of presidential power and --Damn right, we are skeptical. That's because, if these programs are real, they don't add, but subtract our civil liberties...which I thought was contrary to a primary GOP value: Constitution and rule of law over all else.
MR. SNOW: I think what you've done is just reveal the lens through which you're looking at it, which is suspicious, skeptical, and doesn't seem to understand that the word "terrorist" has real meaning, and furthermore, that somebody does have to have stated legal reasons and evidence to support it to enter the database.
I would suggest going back and actually reading more carefully the stories, because they do not convey the dark impression you try to convey in the question.
Q But you're not conveying the legality of it. That's the question here.
MR. SNOW: I'm not a lawyer, so I would suggest, if you want to get into the legal issues, talk to the Treasury Department lawyers and also to the legal --
Q We're asking you.
MR. SNOW: I know, but I'm not a lawyer, Helen, and, frankly --
Q You don't have to be a lawyer, you should have just gotten the information from inside, as to what they base it on.
MR. SNOW: Thank you, ma'am. Thank you.