Remember the word "multilateral?" That's what John Kerry-type Democrats claim our effort in Iraq is not. The SWIFT program was a meticulously constructed multinational covert operation that had the cooperation of Belgium, Spain and other European nations. The Times' revelation not only damaged the SWIFT program as an individual effort, but damaged the "inside diplomacy" that organized it and ensured its legality.
I've discussed the SWIFT debacle with my contacts in the U.S. intelligence and defense technology communities, and asked for an estimate of what it would cost to reconstitute a SWIFT-type intel program. Gut estimates range from $400 million to $500 million -- a hefty quantity of taxpayer cash. Complete program reconstitution probably isn't necessary. SWIFT may still be operating, but if it is it operates with reduced effectiveness -- the Times' tipped off al-Qaida. Not surprisingly, every source has stressed the qualitative damage done to the political-diplomatic side of multilateral intelligence cooperation.
The New York Times calculates it can defend itself against criminal charges involving the publication of classified material. Times editors intend to play "media martyrs" defending the First Amendment against a "government attack on a fundamental right."
But we must speak truth to media as well as government and corporate abuse of power.
Perhaps the U.S. government should file a civil lawsuit to recover the loss of a significant defense and intelligence investment. No, I'm not a lawyer, but it's fair to ask if the Times did quantifiable damage to U.S. taxpayers. If it did, how much? Two hundred million dollars? Fifty million? Or did it do zero damage?
Calame belatedly recognizes a corporate error by his employer. In most cases, an apology more than suffices. However, if the SWIFT expose hurt critical security efforts in the midst of a counter-terror war (which many people believe it did), then it went beyond legitimate political speech or reporting and became an arrogant, stupid, wanton, reckless act that wreaked qualitative and quantitative damage.
American soldiers and intelligence agents have their lives on the line. The Bush administration needs to back their effort with a demonstration of political grit and at least consider asking a jury (of taxpayers) to consider the matter.
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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