President Bush called the leaking and publishing of information on a top secret program to locate terrorists by sifting through bank data "disgraceful." Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, used an even harsher word: "treason."
One of the men President Bush tracked down by subpoenaing international wire transfer records is Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali -- or, as Australia's foreign ministers dubbed him, "the Eastern version of Osama bin Laden."
Hambali was the mastermind behind the terrorist attack on a Bali resort in October 2002 in which more than 200 people were murdered. Survivor Matt Noyce told the BBC: "It was awful, like something you'd see out of Vietnam. There were bodies everywhere. It was pretty dark, but you could tell some people were really badly injured. Lots of blood everywhere, people with burns. Some people with limbs that just ... well, just terrible, terrible injuries."
Hambali was also behind the 2003 Jakarta hotel bombing that killed at least 13 and left 120 injured. "Burned bodies lay amid pools of blood in the street among the shattered glass and twisted metal as flames and black smoke billowed up the building," the BBC reported. He's blown up churches in Indonesia, plotted to attack the U.S. Embassy in Singapore. Zacarias Moussaoui, who plotted to explode the Twin Towers, was identified by Hambali's wife as a business associate, according to the BBC.
CNN's Jakarta bureau chief identified Hambali as a key figure who organized the al-Qaida senior leaders in Malaysia in 2000 for the first planning sessions of the 9/11 attacks.
How did we track him down and capture him? Now, thanks to The New York Times' "expose," the truth can be told. It was through this kind of data mining that the Bush administration "identified a previously unknown figure in Southeast Asia who had financial dealings with a person suspected of being a member of al-Qaida; that link helped locate Hambali in Thailand in 2003, officials said."
This is what is known as "connecting the dots," big-time.
An administration less focused on doing everything legal and proper to protect us might have never even thought of the plan. This was not routine. When Wall Street executives informed a senior Bush official that the database existed, he hadn't heard of it before. "This was creative stuff. Nothing was clear-cut, because we had never gone after information this way before," he said, according to the Times article.
Even after years of operation, The New York Times could uncover no evidence of unlawful behavior or misuse of the data. President Bush subpoenaed international data with one dogged single-minded goal: Track down men who want to blow up innocent people.
When exposed to information about efforts like this by President Bush, I am not outraged. I'm deeply grateful. And worried now about who might die now that The New York Times has published this information.
Memo to New York Times: Since protecting innocent human lives from attack is clearly not for you a good enough reason to respect classified information vital to national security, let me offer you another, more powerful motive for the future: One more expose like this, and you may elect a whole lot of Republicans.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.
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