The House of Representatives on Thursday approved a Republican-crafted resolution condemning news organizations for revealing a covert government program to track terrorist financing, saying the disclosure had “placed the lives of Americans in danger.”
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, Los Angeles 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. All Democrats in the California delegation voted against the measure; all the state’s Republican legislators voted for it.
Democrats protested language in the resolution that asserted that the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program was “rooted in sound legal authority” and that members of Congress had been appropriately briefed.
Though the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal also reported on the program, Republicans singled out the New York Times for criticism.
“The recent front-page story in the aforementioned New York Times cut the legs out from under this program,” said Rep. Michael G. Oxley (R-Ohio), chairman of the Financial Services Committee. “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.”
The administration and the 9/11 Commission “went to the New York Times and asked them in the interest of national security not to release the details of this program,” said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. “They went ahead and did it anyway.”
The New York Times has said publication of the information has served America’s public interest. Its executive editor, Bill Keller, said in a statement after the House passed the resolution that the newspaper took seriously the risks of reporting on intelligence.
“We have on many occasions withheld information when lives were at stake,” Keller said. “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.”
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.”
Democrats 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 left out language defending the program’s legality.
“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,” said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), author of the alternative.
“It is a campaign document,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). “There’s never been any oversight of the program. You are asking us to vote on something that we absolutely cannot attest to.”