Friday, June 30, 2006

A Black Eye But Not A Knock Out

The United States House of Representatives approved a Republican-crafted resolution condemning news organizations for revealing a covert government program to track terrorist financing on Thursday.

According to CNN, the resolution "condemns the unauthorized disclosure of classified information" and "expects the cooperation of all news media organizations in protecting the lives of Americans and the capability of the government to identify, disrupt and capture terrorists by not disclosing classified intelligence programs such as the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program. The resolution, passed 227-183 on a largely party-line vote, did not specifically name the news organizations, but it was aimed at The New York Times and other news media that last week reported on a secret CIA-Treasury program to track millions of financial records in search of terrorists. The Times has defended its reporting, saying publication has served America's public interest. Its executive editor, Bill Keller, said in a statement after the House passed the resolution that the paper took seriously the risks of reporting on intelligence. "We have on many occasions withheld information when lives were at stake, however, the administration simply did not make a convincing case that describing our efforts to monitor international banking presented such a danger. Indeed, the administration itself has talked publicly and repeatedly about its successes in the area of financial surveillance."

This of course was seen differently in the eyes of House Republican’s. Financial Services Committee chairman, Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio noted, "the recent front-page story in the aforementioned New York Times cut the legs out from under this program," said the. "Now the terrorists are well-informed of the details of our methods and will find other ways to move money outside of the formal financial system."

It is at this juncture that one needs to consider that fact that terrorists have already and currently are moving money outside the formal financial system, and have been doing this since the program began.

Most Democrats opposed the measure, protesting language in it that asserts that the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program was "rooted in sound legal authority" and that members of Congress had been appropriately briefed on the program. Democrats also reacted angrily to the GOP majority's refusal to allow them to offer an alternative that would also have expressed concerns about the unauthorized leak of classified information but would have left out language defending the legality of the program. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, author of the alternative, said, "What you have done is to hijack the virtually unanimous support for tracking terrorist financing into an endorsement of the way the Bush administration has conducted itself."

The bill by the Republican’s and the almost scripted response by the Democrat’s can be seen as nothing more than electioneering, due to the upcoming fall elections. However, the action itself is cause to pause. Within the American experiment we call Democracy, the press, or more appropriate in today language, Media, is more than a concept. The press is a separate and, almost, sacred institution, the fourth estate, and protected under our Constitution. Such a resolution undercuts the responsibility of this nation’s media, while at the same time vindicating its historic role as buffer between government and citizen as well as its tradition. An educated citizenry are so due to its press. Let us all remember this, honor and respect it.

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