WASHINGTON, June 26 ? President Bush today condemned as “disgraceful” the disclosure last week of a secret program that seeks to investigate and block terrorists by tracing financial records through a banking consortium in Brussels.
The existence of the program was reported beginning on Thursday evening by The New York Times and other newspapers.
“We’re at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America,” Mr. Bush told reporters today. “For people to leak that program, and for a newspaper to publish it, does great harm to the United States of America.” He added that it “makes it harder to win the war on terrorism.”
Mr. Bush did not single out a particular newspaper. But on Sunday, Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, said he was outraged that such a sensitive program had been exposed, and called for a criminal investigation of The Times.
The following is a letter Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, has sent to readers who have written to him about The Times’s publication of information about the government’s examination of international banking records:
I don’t always have time to answer my mail as fully as etiquette demands, but our story about the government’s surveillance of international banking records has generated some questions and concerns that I take very seriously. As the editor responsible for the difficult decision to publish that story, I’d like to offer a personal response.
Some of the incoming mail quotes the angry words of conservative bloggers and TV or radio pundits who say that drawing attention to the government’s anti-terror measures is unpatriotic and dangerous. (I could ask, if that’s the case, why they are drawing so much attention to the story themselves by yelling about it on the airwaves and the Internet.) Some comes from readers who have considered the story in question and wonder whether publishing such material is wise. And some comes from readers who are grateful for the information and think it is valuable to have a public debate about the lengths to which our government has gone in combatting the threat of terror.