Austin Bay

October Surprise? This year, October began on Sunday, June 23, when The New York Times sprang this election's first, most odious and most damaging "media revelation."

I'm referring to the Times' faux-expose of the productive and legal counter-terrorist finance intelligence operation that involved the Belgium-based consortium the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT).

That operation gleaned information that helped nab terrorist kingpin Hambali, the architect of the 2002 Bali (Indonesia) terror massacre.

After the Times exposed this classified operation, I wrote a column asking why the Times editors had done something so fundamentally stupid. My guess: "The simple power to do it is one explanation -- and that's the power of a bully. ... The Times obviously believes it can expose intelligence secrets and pay no penalty."

Times enablers greeted all critique with the usual rhetorical parries. We heard "the free press" defense -- as if the intelligence community wasn't engaged in defending the system that permits a free press. The Times and its national media enablers (by innuendo) suggested the Bush administration might be engaged in illegal spying on innocent people, though the June article admitted the program was limited "to tracing transactions of people suspected of having ties to al-Qaida by reviewing records from the nerve center of the global banking industry."

Last week, the Times' "public editor," Byron Calame, issued a lame "mea culpa." He wrote he hadn't "found any evidence in the intervening months that the surveillance program was illegal under United States laws." (Earth to Calame: We told you that in June.)

Calame added: "My original support for the article rested heavily on the fact that so many people already knew about the program that serious terrorists also must have been aware of it. But critical, and clever, readers were quick to point to a contradiction: The Times article and headline had both emphasized that a 'secret' program was being exposed."

Thus, the Times exposes its own bubble world. Remember, this "elite" fish-wrapper attacks Weblogs and makes derisive fun of George Bush's verbal miscues.

Throughout the summer, I read volumes of informed criticism of the Times --criticism the Times' staff pooh-poohed. Now, it seems Calame and Times Editor in Chief Bill Keller were neither informed enough nor concerned enough to understand the criticism, much less understand the damage their clique did to America's ability to conduct multilateral intelligence programs.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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