Is U.S. on Right Track in War on Terrorism? Justice officials claim to have cracked an alleged terrorist cell in Miami, and newspapers report that U.S. Treasury officials have tracked international financial transactions since the Sept. 11 attacks. What do these developments say about progress in the fight against terrorism?

Is U.S. on Right Track in War on Terrorism?

Is U.S. on Right Track in War on Terrorism?

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Justice officials claim to have cracked an alleged terrorist cell in Miami, and newspapers report that U.S. Treasury officials have tracked international financial transactions since the Sept. 11 attacks. What do these developments say about progress in the fight against terrorism?

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

The Bush administration has made clear it is not happy about the reporting of the SWIFT story by the New York Times and other media outlets. This is the second time in seven months that the Times has run a story revealing a terror surveillance program over White House objections. In a tense exchange with reporters today, spokesman Tony Snow explained the White House's reasoning.

Mr. TONY SNOW (White House Press Secretary): I think the American people understand that if somebody says, how is it that you're tracking down terrorist financing, we don't want terrorists to know that, that's an important thing for them not to know. But now what's happening is that some of the means and methods are available, what happens is, they adjust their own techniques accordingly.

CHADWICK: Back with us again, NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams.

Juan, what is the responsibility of media organizations in a moment like this?

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Alex, I think it's pretty clear that they have an obligation to let the administration know, and allow the administration to make the case against publication. And in this situation, The New York Times, their executive editor, Bill Keller, as well as editors at other newspapers, Dean Baquet at the L.A. Times, all said that they did consider conversations held with the White House, and decided that this was such an extensive and extraordinary program, that it was in the public interest and therefore justified publication of the story. And then once they made that decision, went back to the administration and said they were going to go ahead and got response from the administration about the program.

CHADWICK: The conservative blogs are churning this morning with calls for criminal prosecution of the Times. Any possibility of that?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's unlikely. You know, already, there is questions about whether or not the Times will be prosecuted for a story they ran in December on the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping of phones. And again, you know, in that situation, to go back to your earlier question, the White House got Bill Keller and Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of the Times and the editor, to come to the White House. They didn't do that this time, just making the case by phone.

But what you see here is the question of oversight in both situations, and the critics saying there's no oversight here that would prevent abuses. And then you have privacy and consumer issues. But the question is do those apply to terrorists? And that would, I think, undermine the question of a prosecution.

CHADWICK: You know, Juan, our lead today, the news of arrests in Miami of these seven people alleged to be plotting domestic terrorism, does this bolster the administration case that they need these powers?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think it does in many ways, because people see that terrorism is now sort of metastasized, and these cells occur sort of independent of al-Qaida, and people want to be protected. But nonetheless, the whole issue of your personal rights, your rights to have private conversations, private bank transactions, Alex, all of that comes into play as a countervailing force. And what we see is people saying, yes, we want it if it's just for the terrorists. And that's the sort of heart of the administration's argument, is this is limited to terrorists.

In fact, in 1993 - I'm sorry - 2003, two years after this SWIFT program began, the administration had arguments internally and allowed some safeguards to be put in place that assured that all - the only transactions that were being observed were those where there was a discernable link to people who had alleged terrorist ties.

CHADWICK: Well, it does get confusing. Things get conflated, you know, the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq, domestic surveillance, and domestic security. What do voters make of this?

WILLIAMS: Well, fear works. And I think that fear is working very much in this situation, that the administration says, you know, their job is to prevent further terrorist attacks, that they have prevented them, and that voters won't notice that. And if you'll notice, this week in Washington, there have been extensive arguments in Washington about exactly how far we go with the war on terror as part of the war in Iraq, and so - as justification for the war in Iraq.

I think the voters are going to have to come to some conclusion, the Republicans saying, we're protecting you, and the Democrats saying the balance has been tipped and it's not in keeping with our Democratic principles of protecting civil liberties.

CHADWICK: NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams from Washington.

Juan, thank you again.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Alex.

CHADWICK: And stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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