Your Bank Book, Please

Editors at the New York Times find the broadside fired by the administration today “puzzling”. This follows the Times’ revelation Friday that our government has now asserted its right to pry into the international SWIFT banking system, supposedly to track the money transfers of terrorists.

It’s not surprising that the White House came out swinging today. The ferocity of the attack, which all but calls for Bill Keller of the Times to be tried as a traitor, preempts questions that I’d like someone to ask:

  • Since the SWIFT system is headquartered in Belgium, did the U.S. government act alone or with the cooperation of Europeans?
  • Were only the accounts of Americans monitored? If not, what criteria were used to select the accounts of foreign nationals, and which ones were monitored?
  • What sort of activity was monitored — all transfers, transfers above a certain dollar amount, transfers between certain banks, or what?
  • Do intelligence officials really believe that serious terror groups — ones that can launch a 9/11-magnitude attack — are foolish enough to transfer suspiciously large sums of money through channels that can be monitored?

I’m not a big fan of the New York Times, but if anything, the editors deserve the gratitude of Americans for publishing this story, not condemnation.

Look: This program, like NSA telephone and Internet spying, turns the idea that Americans are presumed innocent by their government until proven guilty upside-down. It’s a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment: No warrant, no search. It’s that simple.

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