The operation that foiled Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's latest underwear bomb plot was a success, and everyone says so. But that consensus breaks down when the topic turns to how information about the plot became public. Last week, even while lauding the work that went in to breaking up the plan, government officials, lawmakers, and intelligence community observers were decrying the leaks related to the case.
To recap: the Associated Press story that broke the news of the thwarted plot on Monday, May 7 contained the following:
The AP learned about the thwarted plot last week but agreed to White House and CIA requests not to publish it immediately because the sensitive intelligence operation was still under way. Once officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP decided to disclose the plot Monday despite requests from the Obama administration to wait for an official announcement Tuesday.
On May 9, as more information about the thwarted plot and the intelligence operation continued to trickle out, CNN reported that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had ordered an internal review -- though not a formal investigation -- to figure out whether the leaks had come from any of the 16 intelligence agencies he oversees.
The next day, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta answered a question at a press briefing about the need for an investigation.
"I have to tell you that those kinds of leaks are very harmful to the efforts of the intelligence community. Our whole effort is to try to be able to get individuals that can provide intelligence and that can work with us," Panetta told reporters. "And when these leaks take place, I can't tell you how much they damage our ability to be able to pursue our intelligence efforts. And so I am fully in favor of a full and thorough investigation of this matter, and I understand that the director, the DNI will do that."
Others have used stronger language. Asked on Fox News Sunday what kind of investigation should be launched into the leak, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) responded "a big one" before raising the prospect of criminal charges.
"[T]he leak did endanger sources and methods, and the leak I think has to be prosecuted," Feinstein said. "So, the investigation is being done, hopefully concluded and criminal charges will go to the Department of Justice."
Feinstein's counterpart in the lower chamber, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), appeared on television several times last week to share his concerns about possible motives behind the leak.
"I've been asking a lot of serious questions about how this leak, in fact, happened and to make sure that there wasn't, as I said, a little chest thumping a little bit early at the expense of our national security," Rogers told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
Asked if he was implying there was a political motive to the leak, Rogers said that "it is the funny season in this town, and it certainly didn't pass the smell test when we looked at all of the details of this particular case and how it happened and when there were press conferences scheduled."
Outside observers, too, were critical of the way information was coming out. Former FBI agent Ali Soufan, appearing on "Anderson Cooper 360," made it personal.
"Well, I agree with what Representative [Peter] King said and I think they should have an investigation about this," Soufan said. "I did undercover al Qaeda related cases and I know how dangerous it is when you are with a group and they can kill you in a second and they know that you're a federal agent, and you're a source [for] other government... So doing something like this for any reason, even if just to make the American people happy that we're winning against al Qaeda is very selfish in so many different ways."
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