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US lawmaker urges criminal probe against NYT for disclosing terror finance program

[JURIST] US Rep. Peter King (R-NY) [official website], chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee [official website], encouraged the Bush administration in a FOX News interview [recorded video] on Sunday to press criminal charges against the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal for disclosing a secret CIA financial-monitoring program [JURIST report] supervised by the US Treasury Department [official website]. Under the program, which began shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks [JURIST news archive] to investigate terror suspects, the CIA reviews financial records in an international database owned by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) [corporate website; Wikipedia backgrounder], the financial messaging service that serves as the backbone of the global banking industry. King suggested Sunday that the Bush administration particularly pursue criminal charges against the New York Times because the newspaper published the story against arguments by the Bush administration that publication would jeopardize terror investigations, and also because the New York Times first disclosed the NSA domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive] last December. King said he will write to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to request an investigation and charges. AP has more.

In a related development, President Bush on Monday denounced the publication of the SWIFT program, calling it "disgraceful" and saying the leak "does great harm to the United States of America." New York Times executive editor Bill Keller defended his decision [NYT report] to disclose the SWIFT program as well as the NSA program, saying the paper "served the public interest by accurately reporting on these programs so that the public can have an informed view of them." AP has more.

4:06 PM ET - Belgian officials said Monday that they have begun their own investigation into the legality of US searches of records held by SWIFT, which is based in Brussels. A spokesperson for the Belgian Justice Ministry [official website] said that the Justice Minister will be given reports from the country's national security services and counter-fraud office by the end of the week. Reuters has more.

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