Goldberg furthered Bush surveillance falsehoods

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

In his newest column, Jonah Goldberg furthered falsehoods and baseless assertions on the NSA's warrantless domestic eavesdropping program, including writing that President Bush's approval ratings "went up" following the public disclosure of the NSA program.

In his June 28 nationally syndicated column, National Review Online editor at large and Los Angeles Times columnist Jonah Goldberg claimed that President Bush's approval ratings "went up" following the public disclosure of the National Security Agency's (NSA) warrantless domestic eavesdropping program in 2005. In fact, Bush's approval ratings in most polls remained stagnant in the low 40s during that time period. Goldberg also repeated the false claim that "no allegations of abuse or illegality" have been made regarding the Bush administration's secret program designed to monitor international financial transactions -- first publicly disclosed in The New York Times and other papers on June 23. In fact, some legal experts and politicians have indeed questioned the legality of the newly disclosed program.

In his column, Goldberg wrote:

The glorious and heartbreaking irony of all this is that in the face of most of these revelations, the American people remain unified. The war in Iraq may be unpopular and controversial, but most Americans agree that the war on al-Qaida is serious, and they expect their government to do the sorts of things it is doing. And, they seem to understand that this sort of work has to be done in secret.

The wiretapping exposé was greeted with a yawn by most Americans, who assumed the government was doing this sort of thing. Indeed, when the NSA program was exposed and President Bush was painted by a hysterical media as a threat to civil liberties, his approval ratings went up.

The New York Times first publicly disclosed the NSA's warrantless surveillance program on December 16, 2005. According to PollingReport.com and the polling archive of the Roper Center for Public Opinion and Research, Bush's approval rating went up by only one or two points in some polls, while it remained stagnant in others and even went down a point in January in the Fox News/OpinionDynamics poll. Bush displayed significant improvement in only one poll. The ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted December 15-18, 2005, put Bush's approval rating at 47 percent -- eight points higher than the previous ABC/Post poll, conducted in late October. Bush's approval rating in the ABC/Post poll dropped to 42 percent in late January, while the most recent results put him at 38 percent.

Golberg continued:

But don't tell that to The New York Times and other publications that have taken it upon themselves to divulge whatever they please about the war on terror. This month, the Times exposed the government's ongoing program to track terrorists' financial transactions -- a policy the Times itself vigorously editorialized in favor of. There have been no allegations of abuse or illegality. There are no pressing constitutional issues involved, and nobody seriously disputes that it is an important program. The Times simply thinks it's in the public interest to expose it and, hence, cripple it. The Times ignored pleas from a wide array of public officials, including the chairmen of the 9/11 Commission, who apparently see such efforts as the sort of "imaginative" work the government should be doing.

On June 23, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) all published articles disclosing a secret Bush administration program designed to monitor international financial transactions. The classified program, according to the reports, began as a response to the September 11, 2001, terror attacks for the purpose of aiding law enforcement with tracking down terrorist operatives by monitoring their financial activity. It is reportedly run by the CIA and overseen by the U.S. Treasury Department. As Media Matters for America noted, however, several experts have raised questions about whether the program follows proper legal procedures. The New York Times reported on June 23 that L. Richard Fischer, "a Washington lawyer who wrote a book on banking privacy and is regarded as a leading expert in the field," expressed concerns about the program, as have executives at the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), the Belgian financial consortium from which the program obtains records of international bank transfers. The New York Times further reported that lawyers from the Treasury and Justice Departments also debated legal issues surrounding the program.

Goldberg continued:

A glimpse into the thinking behind Times executive editor Bill Keller's decision to green-light the story can be gleaned by noting his tactic of referring to this as a program of the Bush "administration" rather than a government program. It seems the Times has simply concluded that a president who won't use the war on terror to unify the country on terms the newspaper finds favorable isn't justified in fighting that war at all.

Goldberg's hints at The New York Times' motives notwithstanding, the program, according to press accounts, was initiated and is operated by the executive branch without specific congressional approval or judicial oversight. The Washington Post reported on June 24: "The program falls well within the president's executive authority, [White House press secretary] Tony Snow asserted, and President Bush did not need to seek congressional authorization, although Snow said legislative oversight committees 'know all about it.' " The Los Angeles Times reported on June 23 that the Treasury Department -- not the courts -- issues subpoenas for financial records:

In a major departure from traditional methods of obtaining financial records, the Treasury Department uses a little-known power -- administrative subpoenas -- to collect data from the SWIFT network, which has operations in the U.S., including a main computer hub in Manassas, Va. The subpoenas are secret and not reviewed by judges or grand juries, as are most criminal subpoenas.

Given that the program was established by the Bush administration and operated independently of Congress and the judiciary, how can Goldberg find nefarious motives in Keller's reference to the program as one run by the Bush administration?

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.