The other day, I noted the Justice Department’s monitoring of phone contacts in the AP, and expressed my reservations about what was being done. I, like a lot of other people, wondered why the Government embarked on what was essentially a due process-less fishing expedition for leakers. What was it that had them (by all appearances at least) so pissed off?
The Government has responded, at least partially, with what had them irked. I’m not sure I buy into the response totally, but it does give some food for thought as to a free press vs. responsibility. In the WWII era, how would something like this have been dealt with? And should we apply those same concepts to what is going on today?
Disclosure of a highly classified intelligence operation in Yemen last year compromised an exceedingly rare and valuable espionage achievement: an informant who had earned the trust of hardened terrorists, according to U.S. officials.
The operation received new scrutiny this week after the Justice Department disclosed it had obtained telephone records for calls to and from more than 20 lines belonging to the Associated Press news service and its journalists in April and May 2012 in a high-level investigation of the alleged leak of classified information.
The informant, a British citizen born in Saudi Arabia, had been recruited by British intelligence to operate as a double agent within the group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, one of the most dangerous franchises of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
His access led to the U.S. drone strike that killed a senior Al Qaeda leader, Fahd Mohammed Ahmed Quso, on May 6, 2012. U.S. officials say Quso helped direct the terrorist attack that killed 17 sailors aboard the U.S. guided-missile destroyer Cole in a Yemeni harbor in October 2000.
The informant also convinced members of the Yemeni group that he wanted to blow up a U.S. passenger jet on the first anniversary of the U.S. attack that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. They outfitted him with the latest version of an underwear bomb designed to pass metal detectors and other airport safeguards, officials say.
The informant left Yemen and delivered the device to his handlers, and it ultimately went to the FBI‘s laboratory in Quantico, Va. Intelligence officials hoped to send him back to Yemen to help track more bomb makers and planners, but the leak made that impossible, and sent Al Qaeda scrambling to cover its tracks, officials said.
The Associated Press distributed a wire story on May 7, 2012, that disclosed some details of the passenger jet plot. The news agency had held the story for five days at the CIA‘s request.
The Associated Press did not mention the informant in its report. But White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan, who is now CIA director, briefed several former senior government officials who would be appearing on TV. Brennan told them, he later told Congress, that U.S. authorities had “inside control” of the plot.
Other media, including the Los Angeles Times, subsequently reported the use of a double agent.
British intelligence officials were furious at the disclosures, a British diplomat said. Saudi intelligence officials also were dismayed, U.S. officials said. And U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials were aghast.
“I have to say that this is among, if not the most serious, in the top two or three most serious leaks that I’ve ever seen,” Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. told reporters this week. “It put the American people at risk — and that is not hyperbole.”
A former CIA lawyer, who asked not to be identified so he could speak candidly, called that an exaggeration.
“Any time you’ve got a human being involved who was compromised, it’s serious,” he said. “But it certainly wasn’t one of the top two or three that I would have picked. And I never heard of a leak investigation throwing out a dragnet over this many reporters.”
Holder’s claims are hardly surprising, or new: Government extrapolates, as we should be all too painfully aware is the case, considering what the Reign of Error did to get us into Iraq. But when has the press gone too far with something? How do we draw the line?
I’d love to see a spirited discussion of this in Washington, but the Rushpubliscums (now known to have altered Benghazi emails that they then leaked to the press) aren’t interested in the truth. Their interest was, and is, to destroy the Obama Presidency. Color me pessimistic about actually deciding anything here.