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June 28, 2006


Don McArthur

A Manichean "Us vs. Them," "With Us Or Agin' Us" mindset from a recovering alcoholic/religious fundamentalist? What a surprise. I never saw that coming.

mark safranski

I disagree, John.

Certainly, SWIFT wasn't going to catch any " big fish". What it would pick up, and from my understanding did, are the wannabes, amateur free-lancers and marginal small fry members who are sloppy, lazy or incompetent at tradecraft ( Even highly trained pro organizations like the CIA, the old KGB and so on had their share of corrupt, drunkard or otherwise dysfunctional field operatives. Any sizable organization will). These people create leads to better targets and that's what SWIFT was for, not nailing Osama Bin Laden.

Whistleblowing when something is seriously amiss is one thing but outing SWIFT served no public good whatsoever, and it was done by Bill Keller in much the same spirit as a teen-ager giving an adult on the street the finger.

Ken Hagler

I realize that the people who think the government can do know wrong are probably incapable of understanding this, but there are in fact people (such as myself) who regard the Feds using the Constitution for toilet paper as "something is seriously amiss."

a z

Bush himself said the US pursues "chases money trails" via the PATRIOT Act while campaigning in 2004. (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/04/20040419-4.html)

The UN knew about SWIFT specfically in 2002. (http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N02/725/72/PDF/N0272572.pdf?OpenElement)

I'm not sure how this plays in the rest of the world, but in the US the big story seems to be how the NYT are traitors for revealing nothing new and clearly stating legal means were used to secure the data.

I believe mark is right. SWIFT sounds more like busting people with small bags of marijuana in the belief that eventually you will find the grower and distribution network.

John Robb

"SWIFT is the financial industry-owned co-operative supplying secure, standardised messaging services and interface software to 7,800 financial institutions in more than 200 countries. SWIFT's worldwide community includes banks, broker/dealers and investment managers, as well as their market infrastructures in payments, securities, treasury and trade."

Think about this in terms of the platform.

Michael Tanji

That the program caught bad guys is to me evidence enough of its utility, though arguing about scale is certainly valid. Given that the security apparatus isn’t going GG itself any time soon (ref recent post on main site) I am curious as to what realistic alternatives to the various old-school approaches taken to date would be? Are we destined to be haunted by the specter of COINTELPRO and re-fight the Pent-Papers fight for the rest of our existence, or are there some alternatives that can be implemented in the current environment that won’t upset the great org-chart-behind-the-curtain and keep the nervous nellies happy?

John Robb

Michael, it's going to get worse. The sides are hardening (one national and one international).

Frankly, almost all of this types of activities that involve global platforms and US multinationals, it should be done above board. Either we get coordination with our platform partners or we shouldn't do it (since it will likely damage US participation in the platform -- external consensus will put in place opposition to this type of activity that will be difficult to erradicate in the future). Of course, that requires trust. Something we are in short supply of right now.

mark safranski


What public good was served here by outing SWIFT ?

What laws were being broken ?

What covert intelligence programs directed at al Qaida, in your view, would be permissable ?

Michael Tanji

I agree that the above-board – or perhaps more accurately “declared” – aspect is important. Lots of people are questionable allies in public, but behind the scenes at the functional level things are surprisingly well greased. In that sense disclosure is less an issue for the adversary than it is for the colleague: hard to stay in power when you’re viewed as a liar or puppet.

Short of some Clancy-esque solution then prepare for more of the same I guess . . . Alas . . .

Ken Hagler


"What public good was served here by outing SWIFT ?"

That's a question you should direct to your fellow socialists. I'm a libertarian; I don't think in those terms.

It was certainly a personal and private good thing for everyone who didn't previously know that his financial dealings were being spied on by an Evil Empire with a history of disappearing people into secret prisons to be tortured, and of arbitrarily murdering tens of thousands.

"What laws were being broken ?"

This one:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

"What covert intelligence programs directed at al Qaida, in your view, would be permissable ?"

That's too broad to answer, but intelligence programs need to be legal, and if they're directed at al Qaida they should actually _be_ directed at al Qaida, and not part of the War on Terra that happens to use that particular bogeyman as (unnecessary) political cover.

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