WASHINGTON -- President Bush said yesterday that it was ``disgraceful" that the news media had disclosed a secret CIA-Treasury program to track millions of financial records in search of terrorist suspects.
The White House accused The
``The fact that a newspaper disclosed it makes it harder to win this war on terror," Bush said, leaning forward and jabbing his finger during a brief question-and-answer session with reporters in the Roosevelt Room.
The Times has defended its effort, saying publication has served America's public interest.
The newspaper, along with the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal, revealed last week that Treasury officials, beginning shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, had obtained access to an extensive international financial database -- the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift.
The New York Times late last year also disclosed that the National Security Agency had been conducting warrantless surveillance in the United States since 2002 of people suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda.
``Some in the press, in particular The New York Times, have made the job of defending against further terrorist attacks more difficult by insisting on publishing detailed information about vital national security programs," Vice President Dick Cheney said in a speech at a political fund-raising luncheon in Grand Island, Neb.
``The New York Times has now twice -- two separate occasions -- disclosed programs; both times they had been asked not to publish those stories by senior administration officials," Cheney said. ``They went ahead anyway. The leaks to The New York Times and the publishing of those leaks is very damaging."
Bill Keller, executive editor of the Times, defended the decision to publish the story.
``Most Americans seem to support extraordinary measures in defense against this extraordinary threat, but some officials who have been involved in these programs have spoken to the Times about their discomfort over the legality of the government's actions and over the adequacy of oversight," Keller said in a note on the paper's website Sunday.
But Treasury Secretary John Snow said in a letter to The New York Times that over the past two months he and other administration officials had engaged in a ``vigorous dialogue" with reporters and editors at the newspaper trying to persuade them to refrain from revealing the program.
Snow said the effort to persuade the paper not to publish also included former Republican governor Thomas Kean of New Jersey and former representative Lee Hamilton, Democrat of Indiana, the cochairmen of the 9-11 commission, as well as a number of members of Congress and top government officials.