‘Retroactive Treason’

Molly Gordy:

I was doing an investigation on another topic in Washington Heights, a section of Manhattan primarily populated by immigrants from the Dominican Republic. I noticed that the largest money-wiring stores had closed. Residents said they’d been shut down by the feds and their owners arrested for laundering drug money. I called the joint federal-city task force that investigates money laundering. After trying to dissuade me (“It’s not a story” etc) they realized that a story in a major paper might help them get permanent funding for their experimental program tracking drug money moving overseas. They gave me the details of the arrests and the program but told me I needed approval from FINCEN, the federal agency for financial law enforcement, in order to print the story.

The FINCEN people greeted my appearance with apoplexy. Fortunately as I walked in their headquarters I noticed a portrait of the new U.S. Undersecretary of the Treasury for Law Enforcement, Raymond “Bulldog” Kelly. A short phone call to the Big Apple’s savvy once-and-future police commissioner did the job. Kelly’s initial reluctance dissolved as he realized that if one reporter had the story, others soon would too, so it was better to get in front of the news and use it to his advantage. My story ran on the front page two days later, where it was seen by 1 million Daily News readers and was picked up by local, national and cable news.

Instead of squawking, Treasury officials placed copies of the article on the desks of every member of Congress. Within a month, the program’s funding was doubled, and eventually it was made permanent.

Treasury Undersecretary Kelly actually sent me a thank-you note after the story ran, and the task force members actually chipped in for flowers — two events that have never otherwise occurred in my 30 years of reporting.

Strangely, the War on Drugs was not lost due to my little scoop. In fact, the program was even more successful once it was made public — so much so that in 2001 it was expanded for use in the War on Terrorism.

How times change. Lucky for me you can’t be charged with retroactive treason.

I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again, though. The administration’s reaction to its critics says far more about the administration than it does about the critics.

A.